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Paramount Studios presents
"That's right. Take a pill. You goddamned dilettante."
DVD ReviewIn recent decades, Jill Clayburgh has been even more AWOL than Debra Winger, but for a while there about a quarter of a century ago, she was solidly on the A list. She's actually pretty good in this movie, but overall it feels like a dated and stagy effort; also, the language of recovery and of twelve-step programs has so pervaded our public discourse that even if this didn't feel shopworn back in the day, it's got a secondhand, Oprahfied, movie-of-the-week feel to it now.
Clayburgh plays Barbara Gordon, a successful TV documentary producer, who has been in therapy for years, and, when we meet her, pops Valium like fistfuls of M & Ms. (A true story, the movie is based on Gordon's memoir.) But Gordon's obvious dependence is easily camouflaged in her world of Type A personalities swilling cocktails and smoking like chimneys; hey, you do what you need to to get through the day, right? Barbara is at a professional logjam, though; she's working on a piece about Jean, a poet and her battle with cancer, and she wants the tale to be an uplifting one. She screens the film for Jean (movingly played by Geraldine Page), who dismisses it as saccharine, a Hallmark card, not a searing investigation. This is enough to spin Barbara out of control, and that's when the real troubles begin—her dashing European boyfriend Derek (Nicol Williamson) decides that the two of them will bunker down in their apartment while Barbara goes through her withdrawal.
Derek, a depressed alcoholic, is less of a partner, and much more of a warden, one who would fit right in at Abu Ghraib; the lockdown in their apartment is claustrophobic, and this oddly becomes more of a withdrawal movie than an addiction movie. (As such, it's not quite in the lineage of films treading on the same territory, such as The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses and Leaving Las Vegas.) The awful revelations fly fast and furious, but they mean a whole lot more to the characters than they do to us; Derek and Barbara's bizarre pact to go it alone turns violent, and of course we feel horribly for her, going through such a terrible time with a monster of a partner, but we're always sort of outside the story.
The last half hour of the film is devoted to Barbara's proper recovery, in a residential facility; she screams, a lot, at her therapist, played by Dianne Wiest, and a couple of other familiar faces show up very briefly: Daniel Stern is a depressed fellow resident; Joe Pesci, another resident, wants Barbara to tag along for his nightly trip to Uranus; and John Lithgow plays the arrogant boy wonder TV exec newly in charge when Barbara returns to work. There's a whole lot of emoting going on, and you sort of get the sense that Clayburgh, though game, could have used more and better direction. The film is notable, too, for a couple of other names in the credits: the screenplay is by David Rabe, Clayburgh's husband, who is probably more celebrated for his stage work than his screenwriting (cf., the current Off Broadway revival of Hurlyburly); and the director of photography is Jan de Bont, who would go on to direct material much further afield, like Twister and Speed.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Pretty badly faded, and frequently scratched; looks like a straight catalog dump job.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Very sloppy dynamics here; at times the dialogue is awfully muddy and incomprehensible, and at others the actors' shrieks may drive you from the room.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: Only English-language subtitles, but, given the poor quality of the audio, you'll probably be happy to have them.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThere's more than a little shrillness here, and at times, well, it may make you want to reach for the Valium. Jill Clayburgh puts it on the line, but the story isn't well fleshed out, and the technical aspects of this disc are wanting.
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