The Review: I prefer Sam Rockwell to Owen Wilson, and I am pretty sure most people feel the same way. Quite why first time writing and directing team Geoff Moore and David Posamentier have instructed Rockwell to carry off his best Owen Wilson impersonation is beyond me. This is not the same Rockwell we saw in The Way Way Back which, when held against Better Living Through Chemistry, seems Oscar-worthy.
Small-time pharmacist Doug Varney has recently bought out a pharmacy in a small, sleepy suburban town somewhere in the States. He’s married to a God-awful fitness instructor bitch, played by Michelle Monaghan and spends his life under the thumb of both her and his chubby twelve year-old son Evan who’s going through the usual pubescent naughtiness at school. Noah (played by Coffeetown’s Ben Schwartz) is a hirsute nitwit occasionally employed at the pharmacy to run deliveries. He’s not very good at it. So, late one night, Varney has to make the deliveries which sees him at the doorstep of the mansion belonging to Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde) who’s a pill-popping, stay-at-home trophy wife. She lets him in, and the pushover becomes seduced.
For long stretches of the ninety minute run time, the movie goes nowhere. Sure, it looks absolutely fantastic; the idyllic ‘burbs are marvelously captured on screen and are a vibrant, pastel-coloured treat. You’re probably wondering what happens next. Well, nothing much to speak of. And this is the problem.
Better Living Through Chemistry has no real clue as to what it wants to be. It’s hinted at that Liz and Varney may escape and run off together, but we sit in befuddlement as to Varney’s preoccupation with his truant son – can he leave him behind? And so, the film side-steps to tackle that issue by including a strange sub-plot seeing him and his son dress up as ninjas and throwing ninja stars at the pharmacy under cover of night. Then we’re back at the pharmacy where Varney starts to get high on his own supply of pills, on the advice of the legal-junkie Elizabeth. It’s then mooted that perhaps Liz and Varney may feed her always-absent millionaire husband a fatal concoction of pills so she can become a widow and run off with Varney elsewhere. But then Varney is too weak to succumb, or too off his tits to consider it seriously.
And the worst offence, here? A glum, gravelly-voiced female narrator tells us what everyone is thinking, despite us having sat through the bleedin’ obvious. It is later revealed that it is Jane Fonda providing the narration, who pops up in the closing scene as a customer. Who is this character? How did she know about them? It’s just a mess.
None of this gels in quite the way Moore and Posamentier probably thought it would. What we’re left with is a directionless, meandering and weak pretty-looking mess. I’d say those attributes can also be attributed to Olivia Wilde – here with blonde hair – but she’s so delectable and gorgeous, I’m not sure I can accuse her of ruining the story; if anything, she livens up the whole affair.
Better Living Through Chemistry was financed, in part, by and Ealing studios offshoot. Sure, this has the blueprint of an Ealing comedy along the lines of The Ladykillers and A Fish Called Wanda. When the think of the last title, we think of ideas way above its station; has she enlisted Varney to murder her husband, and then she can leg it with the money? Can a beautiful woman like that really develop feelings for a loser like him? Or, maybe we consider the potential for a Fargo-lite suspense thriller where the murder goes wrong? Nope – in trying to be both, it ends up being neither.
Reviewed By: Andrew Mackay
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