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Better Living Through Chemistry Movie Review

Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade:  B
Director:  Geoff Moore, David Posamentier
Screenplay: Geoff Moore, David Posamentier
Cast:  Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Sam Rockwell, Ray Liotta, Jane Fonda, Norbert Leo Butz
Screened at:  
Opens:  March 14, 2014
If you watch TV at all, especially the programs (like the news) that cater to people over the age of forty, you’re aware of ads for pharmaceutical products that seem to promise that if you take this pill you may get heart disease, weakened bones, irritation, rashes, hives, a lower immune system, and death.  Since most of the ads tell us the bad effects, one wonders whether Big Pharma knows what it’s doing in spreading this information, which of course it would not do unless the FDA required those caveats.  Now comes a movie that at first appears to counteract all the bad things in those ads, promising better living through chemistry.  Until the side effects kick in, all’s well and good and, in fact, the two principal characters wind up liberating themselves as a result of their experience with pharmaceuticals, both legal and otherwise.
It helps that one of the funniest actors in the business, Sam Rockwell, takes one of the two lead roles, in this case that of a small town druggist in a town called Woodbury, a suburban area that writer-directors Geoff Moore and David Posamentier introduce to us a though it were a model town on an architect’s drawing board.  In a way, it is a model of small-town America, featuring a happy letter carrier, a friendly police officer, a DEA inspector who is genial up to a point, a father-in-law who is often a pain in the butt.  As for Douglas Varney (Sam Rockwell), he’s doing OK in a life that simply goes on day after day, a man who needs to be challenged to get out from the domination of in-law Walter Bishop (Ken Howard), who retires from the pharmacy business and advises his son-in-law Douglas to keep the name Bishop’s, because that’s the name that people have relied upon.  His wife Kara (Michelle Monaghan) is bicycling fanatic who probably takes out so much energy leading a gym class on stationary bikes that she has no time for sex.
The routine changes when Doug, delivers a prescription in the town’s swankiest house, to Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde), a trophy wife who is not fond of her husband (Ray Liotta).  They fall into each other’s arms, two people in need of more excitement that their current lives give them.  It doesn’t take long before they consider doing away with Elizabeth’s usually absent husband.  As they embark on a whirlwind of drugs, sex, rock-and-roll, Doug becomes so liberated that he is able to gain new rapport with his mischievous son Ethan (Harrison Holzer).
Though it’s difficult to imagine a stunner like Elizabeth’s going for a schlemiel like Douglas, the bond gains credibility as each is missing what life could offer.  Still, like a great drug with bad side effects, Doug’s habits attract the attention of an amiable DEA agent, and Doug’s career seems ready to go down and out.
The picture was originally to be cast with Jeremy Renner as Douglas and Jennifer Garner as the sensuous Elizabeth, but no matter.  Wilde and Rockwell, however ill-matched they might at first appear, do make a credible pair and this lighter-than-air, somewhat sit-comish movie is a welcome entry into the field of easy-to-take entertainment.  The film was shot over five weeks in Maryland.
Unrated. 91 minutes.  © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B


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Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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