28 Days

Date:   April 15, 2000


Sandra Bullock .... Gwen Cummings
Viggo Mortensen .... Eddie Boone
Dominic West .... Jasper
Diane Ladd .... Bobbie Jean
Elizabeth Perkins .... Lilly
Steve Buscemi .... Cornell

Director: Betty Thomas

Movies that attempt lighthearted looks at serious subjects walk a very fine line.  They want to entertain, while still delivering a powerful message.  When dealing with the effects of addiction and alcoholism, that line becomes even finer.  It is a disease that can, and has destroyed lives. I grew up with an addict, watched and felt the pain, and frustration that exists, and then suffered at the oblivious nature to which the addict treats the problem.  28 Days attempts to show this, but along with problem, take a look at the effects, and possible cure. It takes a very fine touch to do this.  If it is done wrong, it can seem like a mockery, if overdone, it can be overly preachy or sappy.  28 Days falls somewhere in the middle, leaning towards over emotionalizing, with slight touches of humor and brilliance though.  However it just isn’t quite enough to get the message across

Gwen is always the life of the party, and looking for another.  She has grown up with it, and never outgrown the need to be the center of attention.  She walks that dangerous tightrope of drowning life’s sadness so often that the vision of what reality is becomes tainted.  When sobriety, and reality does show up, it is so painful, and harsh, that it drives her back to the only peace and serenity she knows.  Thus is the vicious circle that makes up the life of an addict, and admit or not, that’s what Gwen is.  The final straw comes at her sisters wedding, where she makes another mistake and is “sorry again”.  However this time, she’s finally forced to get help, and is sentenced to 28 days in a rehab center to recover.  Basically, it is a cinematic version of “go stand in the corner until you realize what you’ve done wrong”. 

Anyone with half a brain, and a heart can see everyplace this movie goes, it just becomes a matter of when it’s going to get there.  We get the eclectic (and yes, politically correct) group of patients, whom we know she will rebel, than sympathize, and ultimately, rejoice with.  We know there will be romance, tragedy, conflict, comic relief, a musical number, etc etc.  Somewhere in between, all we can hope for is a message, to at least make this rehashed journey enjoyable.  The message it tries to preach, is that sometimes, all we have to do is reach out, and ask for help, to not be scared of what we are, and not be afraid to let someone in your life, and let the real you out.  It is an admirable venture, but the movie falls victim to severe heavy handed deliver, unnecessarily driving points home with dramatics, rather than letting reality deliver its own harsh message. 

Writer Susannah Grant, who gave us one the early years best movies in Erin Brockovich, and director Betty Thomas go to overboard trying to deliver the message.   They can’t decide if she wants to make a slice of life comedy about a serious topic, or the female version of Leaving Las Vegas.  Instead of focusing on one, she tries both, and fails on all accounts.  We are given unnecessary flashbacks of parental abuse (one or two is fine, 15-20 is hammering) For all of the insightful dialogue “Insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results” we get 3-4 scenes (sisters together, roommate farewells) that are so over done, and manipulative, that you can almost feel the hands coming out of the screen and milking your tear ducts.  My suggestions, ease up a bit, tell the story simply, and more realistically, it is powerful subject matter, one that most can relate to in one way or another. It is a good idea that gets way overdone. 

There are shining moments, moments where I thought there was hope.  The loudspeaker announcements of gatherings ala MASH, showed an acerbically humorous view on things “How many brain cells did I kill” or “Is it wrong to celebrate sobriety by getting drunk” The performance of Bullock, whom even I had my doubts about here, pulls of the delicate balance of comic, and sincerity, that the rest of the movie could not.  She knows when to smile, when to cry, and when to just be. She is someone that most can relate because of her reactions to real life situations.  Her edge, wit and ability to express emotion allow her to seemingly say and do those things that  most of us want to.  She’s at her best when she focuses on this (Forces Of Nature, Speed, While You Were Sleeping).  She shines here, but her personality is not enough to carry this film over its flaws of predictability and confusion.

Ultimately, 28 Days falls victim to the very principle that it preaches against, over indulgence.  The only difference here is that we are drowned in emotions rather than substance. Bullock’s performance is sharp and realistic at times, just like the screenplay.  However, it just isn’t enough. It can never decide if it wants you to laugh, or smile and sympathize, or just empathize. This could have been a slightly satirical, but brutally powerful look into how hard recover, realization, and recognition of addiction can be.  Wait more than 28 days to see this one, a nice video rental, with some club soda or grape juice though. ($$1/2 out of $$$$)

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