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|September 16, 2000||
Shaken, not stirred.
If that's the way you like your dry Martini and your films, 28 Days is the movie for you. It is light fluff masquerading as heavy drama.
The film doesn't stretch anyone involved: the central point being to make all performers likeable and all the situations fixable.
The film unfolds with Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock), a sometime writer (the only detail of her work life the film offers is her belief that writers are supposed to drink a lot) and full-time party-girl/alcoholic living in the fast lane with boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West).
Life is one drink after another until she destroys her sister's (Elizabeth Perkins) wedding cake, the limo and the front of a house under influence and finds herself in a 28-day, court-ordered rehabilitation programme.
The institution she lands in is a quirky and cohesive assortment of predictably cute junkies, coke fiends, alcoholics, and sex addicts. These include skirt-chasing baseball player (Viggo Mortensen), a wispy, self-destructive roommate (Azura Skye), a weepy gay man with a silly European accent (Alan Tudyk), a no-nonsense woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a wisecracking flirt (Michael O'Malley), and a hostile doctor-turned-patient (Reni Santoni).
A highlight is the acclaimed folk singer Loudon Wainwright III, a resident of the rehab home (akin to a country house), known only as Guitar Guy, popping up every now and then to perform an impromptu tune with inane and usually hilarious lyrics.
It's these fellow addicts and Counselor Cornell (Steve Buscemi), who provide the backdrop against which Bullock transforms from a flaky, irresponsible party girl in blissful denial, to an intelligent young woman getting her act together.
Director Betty Thomas 28 Days is a road-much-travelled and has behind it a well-known lineage of rehab movies -- Clean And Sober, When A Man Loves A Woman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted.
But while those films captured at least some of the true pathos of battling addiction, 28 Days only hints at what must surely lie beneath the jokes, one-liners and laughter of people trying to cope and falls back on safe, bland predictability.
Although interrupted periodically by genuine tragedy (throwing up from drug withdrawal in toilets, attempted suicides, ugly relapses, etc), the movie spends most of its time and energy in search of laughs.
The sole purpose of Susannah Grant's (of Erin Brockovich) screenplay is to showcase Bullock's girl-next-door acting style. Simplistic prescriptions are offered for complex issues such as self-mutilations, suicide, child neglect, abandonment, which are reduced to punch lines. This aptly sums up the level of analysis offered by 28 Days.
Bullock hardly tests the wilder shores of substance abuse and is less than convincing in her portrayal of a woman's battle to forge a new life from one that is cluttered with alcohol, drugs and irresponsible behaviour.
She is less interested in any kind of emotional intensity than in presenting a breezy, easily digestible entertainment stocked with one-liners. Her desire to remain loveable overrides any possibility of her character taking on unbecoming complexities.
Like any other institutionalised movie, the oddball characters in the film are used to create a certain amount of interest, if only enough to pad the lead performances. So it's up to the vulnerable Skye, as Gwen's suicidal roommate Lily, Perkins and Buscemi to provide as much dramatic balance as possible while the onus of the more humorous rets on Tudyk and O'Malley.
However, none of these characters has been invested with lives that continue off camera.
28 Days aspires to be witty, poignant and insightful, but in the balance between truth and histrionics, the latter wins, hands down.
As a story about real people, it is a movie whose edges are smoothened to please those addicted to happy endings.
For the record, you don't have to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous to appreciate the film. Though I reckon a soft corner for Sandy Bullock and the patience to embrace a familiar theme are needed to down this movie.
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