BY LAUREN NISBET
You might have missed Better Living Through Chemistry–as far as I can tell, it never actually made it into wide release. Luckily, you wouldn’t have missed much.
Ho-hum pharmacist Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) is a typical push-over–bossed around by his wife, father-in-law, employees and son, he’s your typical sad-sack protagonist perfectly primed for the big “shake-up”’ moment to help jump-start a new chapter of his life. Shortly after taking over his retired father-in-law’s pharmacy, just such a moment arises. Working late delivering prescriptions left behind by his irresponsible staff members, he encounters a beautiful pill-popping trophy wife who just moved into town and is feeling lonely. An immediate physical attraction launches a torrid affair and a complete personality 180 for Doug, transforming him from a timid middle-class nobody to an assertive, sexy, drug-mixing rebel, vandalizing his own property and swapping swearwords with his son. If it sounds abrupt, that’s because it was.
My love for Sam Rockwell is all that kept me from walking out on this movie the moment I realized I would have to listen to Jane Fonda’s horribly intrusive and weirdly omniscient narration throughout the entire movie. Why is she talking to us? How does she know so much about the main character’s life when she claims to be just another customer in the store? No one is that weirdly observant. I can occasionally let this type of narration slide for a good book, but not for movie voice-over. It’s a flimsy character connection at best and I was not a fan.
And as much as I love watching Rockwell dance through the aisles of the pharmacy (I could watch that man dance forever), I found the transformation of his character too ridiculous to enjoy. For the first half he was painfully boring and annoying, and for the second he was so completely over the top that it made no sense–also, very strange that no one seemed to notice or comment on his personal transformation. Minimal development and very little payoff–some cute and funny scenes, but not nearly as satisfying as they would have been if there was more context/back-story provided in the first place.
Olivia Wilde pulls off the hot trophy wife, mostly because she’s hot and the role really required little else. Left slightly confused at the end by her decision to travel the world–I thought the issue was that she didn’t have any money? What about the pre-nup? It says a lot about my feelings toward the film that I’m not ranting about this more–it’s just another item on the list of poorly explained plot devices.
So if you love Sam Rockwell, you get to see him dance a bit. That’s really all I got out of this movie. I guess the soundtrack wasn’t bad either.
A media studies grad and pop culture junkie currently navigating the strange and mysterious world of corporate communications, Lauren spends most of her time buried under an ever-growing pile of TBR novels. Based in Toronto, she can be found at the local theatre every Tuesday for cheap movie night. Follow her on Twitter @laurenxnisbet