- Marja Lewis-Ryan
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 14 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Marja Lewis-Ryan’s film about a woman plagued by visions of drowning while trying to help her addicted brother is not for the faint-hearted. The script, which the director wrote and based on the experience of her producer Samantha Houseman, immerses you in the dilemma of the heroine. Not until the end is there a moment of relief or let up of tension. This is a film for enlightenment, not for light entertainment, so tuck the kids away and watch it only when you are feeling up on things.
Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has a strained relationship with her brother Seth (Dave Franco) because of his drug addiction. Currently she is throwing a surprise birthday party on the 4th of July for her boyfriend Jack, so we see first see her in the midst of helpful friends and her mother (Jane Kaczmarek) and father (Tim Matheson). The former seems to be a controlling chatterbox as she follows Katie who is tending to numerous details. Some of the woman’s controlling aspect appears to have carried over into Katie as she inspects the sandwich roles made by her friend and considers re-rolling them.
Katie, instead of sending someone else sets off to pick up the cake and her brother, drives off. Noticing that his mail has piled up on his porch, she knows that an old story is about to be repeated. Inside she finds that her brother is experiencing withdrawal symptoms as he gets his toddler daughter Ella (played by twins Charlotte and Carel Madeline) ready to travel. At first he tries to deny his condition, but his sister cannot be fooled.
As she rushes him to a withdrawal clinic they argue—he fearing that he will lose his job if he agrees to the full 10-day treatment, insisting on 4 days. On her cellphone her family is trying to reach her. They cannot even get through the door of the clinic, the attendant telling them his insurance card is not acceptable. The awkward sequence continues as brother and sister discuss what to do. The attendant tells them of another clinic, and arrangements are made to transport Stet there so that Katie can get back to supervise the party arrangements.
At home she lies about Seth. She receives a call from the clinic that he cannot be admitted, so with the sleeping Ella in the backseat, she sets off again. Seth sinks deeper and deeper into pain and contentiousness as she drives through the now darkened streets. He becomes so desperate that she gives in to his pleas to go to a dangerous skid row area to purchase drugs. Requiring needles, she enters and negotiates with a suspicious pharmacist for the purchase of a packet of them. Katie takes Ella into the bathroom because the toddler has soiled her diapers, and in an overhead shot we see Seth struggling to change the solid drugs into a liquid for his needle in one booth while Katie cleans up Ella in the adjoining one—quite a contrast!
The segments of the film are divided by excerpts from a motivational tape that Katie has been using. It uses the metaphor of a woman making choices about going to a dock where a boat awaits and whether to board it even though she does not know how to operate the boat. We see Katie in her car with water rising about her. By the nth time Katie is totally submerged by the water. This visual treatment might be taking the metaphor of a drowning Katie as enabler a bit far, but by the time it is last used, we too can enter her sensation of drowning in the experience of Seth’s drug addiction. There is no doubt that there are two victims in this film, both of whom need to be set free.
Both Katie and Seth express their disgust that he is “a piece of sh-t.” They have repeated the current night’s scenario over and over. And yet we also see why she loves the brother. Seth is truly a loving father, playing goofy at times with the little girl, cracking inane jokes with his sister, and fearing the loss of contact with his daughter if his drug addiction becomes known to the authorities. He is manipulative and as wheedling as any addict, yet still possessing traces of the qualities that have bonded him and Katie. But now he is a weight threatening to drag his sister down and drown her in the depths. Thus, this is a film about liberation—just not his.
The two leads are incredible in sustaining the mood of anguish and despair, alternating with recriminations and expressions of affection. Also worth noting is that Katie’s boyfriend is played by Dawan Owens, an appealing Black actor. There is no big deal made over this, the family welcoming Jack with open arms when he arrives at the party. If his race ever had been an issue, it has long been settled to everyone’s satisfaction.
Jack is upset that Katie has been lying about her brother. I wonder if this impels her to do what she has not been able to do before. The last scene of her emerging from the car (full of water in her hallucination) where Seth is strung out, while overhead the 4th of July rockets explode in celebration of Independence Day provides the perfect release from the tension that has held us throughout the film. Although for Katie it is not a physical ailment, Jesus’ words said to the woman with the crippled back are just as true for her modern counterpart, ““Woman, you are set free…” She will still love, and maybe pray for her brother, but she will not enable him anymore. She is like the father and the brother in The Remains of the Day, who loved the wayward alcoholic son but were powerless to prevent his self-destructive behavior. This film deserves to stand beside the insightful Beautiful Boy as a reminder that when it comes to addiction, love is not enough, it cannot cure another, but can only stand by and be ready when the lost loved one “comes to him/herself” in the sense of Luke 15:17.
Katie and her upward journey to freedom is one you will remember for a long time.
This review will be in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.