A Million Little Pieces (16)
There have been so many great films made about alcohol addiction you wonder what new angle they could possibly come up with.
For me the most moving moment in Days of Wine and Roses, one of the best of the genre, was when Jack Lemmon – who’s responsible for getting Lee Remick in on drinking – has to watch her becoming more drink-dependent than him. And then jettison her as he begins his journey back from the brink of self-destruction.
I was reminded of this in the present film’s relationship between a writer, James Frey (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and fellow addict Lilly (Odessa Young), in the Minnesota rehab facility they’re attending to try and deal with their problems.
James is a drug addict as well as an alcoholic. He seems to be in the Seventh Circle of Hell when we first encounter him. He has a horrific accident during a ‘trip’ as the credits come down. Afterwards he goes through his own unique version of the Twelve Step programme in the rehab centre. He says he doesn’t believe in the ‘higher power’.
At one point James informs us that, statistically speaking, only 15% of people stay sober after being in Alcoholics Anonymous programmes. Even that statistic only applies to the first year. Does it apply to him? You’ll have to watch the (brilliant) final scene to see.
Some people make it, some don’t. This is the grim reality. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Aaron’s wife in real life) chronicles the different paths his characters take in a manner that refuses to judge them.
The film makes for gruelling viewing at times. There’s sexual content and a torrent of four-lettered words. But it becomes cathartic if you stay with it. I’d even go so far as to say it would be advisable to show it at AA meetings.
Most of it takes place in the treatment centre. James joins fellow lost souls struggling with their problem. Billy Bob Thornton gives an uncharacteristically restrained performance as one of the happier people there.
The always reliable Giovanni Ribisi plays a tormented gay man who makes unwanted advances on James. Juliette Lewis is a counsellor. She doesn’t get much to do but it’s nice to see this fine actress still getting parts.
Taylor-Johnson films some of the scenes in a kind of surreal manner that makes you feel you’re ‘in’ James’ trips. These are very effective apart from a silly one where we get two versions of him on screen (his present self and him as a younger person) as he recaps on the dysfunctional behaviour of his youth.
The hellish imagery become almost celestial in a late scene but there’s no soft-pedalling here for most of the time.
Taylor Johnson also directed Fifty Shades of Grey. Because of that, I approached the film with a degree of caution.
Some of the dialogue has overtones of ‘bumper sticker’ epigrams but overall it hits the spot.