Review by-Jarrett Leahy
In a quiet, idyllic postcard of a town, Doug Varney is a straight-edge pharmacist with a crazed cyclist wife, an alternative son whose erratic behavior is getting more and more bizarre, and a domineering father-in-law with a propensity for disapproving criticism. Unexpectedly, Doug’s humdrum life gets a much needed shot of adrenaline after he begins an illicit relationship with customer Elizabeth Roberts, an unhappy, pill-popping, trophy wife who helps open Doug’s eyes to a world of possibilities. However, these newly found personal discoveries come at a cost, and when Elizabeth gets Doug hooked on his own prescription supply, his life quickly begins to spiral out of control, putting both his family and his business in jeopardy.
The story arc for Better Living Through Chemistry is easily foretold, with few surprising deviations from the obvious. But that doesn’t keep it from offering some amiable moments including a touching and amusing subplot surrounding the odd behavior of Doug’s son Ethan as he tries to come to grips with the difficulties of adolescence. As expected, the highlight of Better Living Through Chemistry is Sam Rockwell who offers yet another charmingly wacky comedic performance. As Doug discovers the benefits and pitfalls of his newfound love of prescription drugs, Rockwell easily slips in and out of the various stages of the character’s manic behavior. After stealing the show in last year’s surprise coming of age comedy, The Way Way Back, I had high hopes Rockwell would have another career surge. Unfortunately, being a gifted and versatile actor just hasn’t seemed to translate over to box office success for Sam.
Looking at the gluttony of mediocre mainstream options being peddled in most cineplexes these last few months, I have to admit to being a bit surprised that a comedy with names like Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Ray Liotta, and Jane Fonda, was treated with such irreverent indifference, with it receiving only a very limited theater release in March and already available in Redbox less than a month later. In the past, straight to DVD was an absolute kiss of death for a film, however with today’s ever expanding variety of home theater options including Netflix streaming, Redbox, and the various video on demand services, a film like this one luckily has the opportunity find enough of an audience to at least have a chance at recouping the investors’ capital. Better Living Through Chemistry never gets better than your average, run-of-the-mill comedy. Saying that, it’s still better than half the crap starring flavor of the month, Kevin Hart, and deserved better than the relative obscurity to which its studio relegated it.-JL