Directed By: Peter Cohn
Starring: Richard Lewis, Dianne Wiest, Faye Dunaway, Amanda Plummer, Parker Posey, Liza Harris, Spalding Gray, Howard Rollins (R, 88 min.)

The great insight of 12-step programs is that chronic substance abuse is less about thrills than finding a system for living and a source of daily comfort. Like Lou Reed said about The Big H: “It's my life and it's my wife.” In this film adaptation of Gary Lennon's play Blackout, the characters are all members of a New York City Alcoholics Anonymous group for whom the corny A.A. rituals and mantras (“By the grace of God, one day at a time, I've got 70 days sober. Thank you.”) are substitutes of a sort for less manageable regimens of boozing and doping. Most of the action happens during one nighttime meeting, from which Jim (Lewis) disappears in a funk after delivering an emotional speech about his lifelong problems with self-medication. In alternating scenes, new members passionately describe why they got on the wagon as the long-sober Jim hits a series of Times Square liquor stores in preparation for a disastrous swan-dive off. Like many standup comics before him, Lewis displays an innate flair for dramatic acting and more than holds his own among the talent-packed roster of co-stars. The agonizing scenes in which he wavers on the brink of his epic bender vividly illustrate the torment of a man who knows that self-destruction is his most natural mode of behavior, and that living straight is like breathing an alien atmosphere for which his lungs were never designed. Less successful are the group members' testimonial scenes, which are individually brilliant if a bit wearing in their cumulative effect. Dunaway, Rollins, Harris, and Plummer all nail their plainspokenly eloquent soliloquies, creating fully realized characters in five-minute bursts of dialogue. Watching these eminent actors do their thing is great stuff, though after a while it starts to feel like you're at a carnival watching a procession of sledgehammer-wielding bruisers try to ring the bell on one of those test-your-strength machines. (”Faye Dunaway -- Take your shot!”) Nonetheless, the unapologetically earnest message of Drunks comes across with force and conviction and will probably leave you with a new respect for A.A. and other programs of its ilk. Like Glen Caron's Clean and Sober, Drunks is a 100-proof shot of reality from a tenuous, desperate place where millions of us live 24-7-365.

Source: The Austin Chronicle© 06-06-1997 

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