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28 DAYS / (2000) ***
"28 Days" is one of the most accurate movies about alcoholism and drug addiction I can remember. The film does not glamorize or poke fun at its thematic content, but instead shimmers in truth depicting the problems in which a nowhere life can lead. Why would anyone want to see a movie about someone spending time in rehab, regardless of how well crafted it is? Because "28 Days" is an interesting, sometimes funny, and involving tale with empathetic, down to earth characters. Do not let this production pass by you without a watch.
The film's main character is named Gwen Cummings and is played by the talented Sandra Bullock. She lives a wild, crazy life with her boyfriend, Jasper (Dominic West). Gwen is an alcoholic and a drug addict, and does not get much support from her similar love interest. As the movie opens, the two get drunk at a club, come home, have sex, and put out a fire with wine. The next day, Gwen arrives late to her sister's wedding, only to destroy an expensive dessert and crash a limousine into a house.
The Gwen Cummings character is developed clearly and effectively. We learn about her lifestyle, recognize faults, and are shown a dark history through painfully real flashbacks. This is one of the things that make "28 Days" so involving. We discover elements about the character and notice inner changes as she learns of them herself. I really cared about this character.
Gwen is given a choice, she can serve jail time for her wrongdoing or can waive that and spend 28 days in a rehab clinic. She chooses rehab. The head counselor is Cornell (Steve Buscemi), who shows empathy but also coyness. Also present at his heath clinic is an assortment of characters who sing sappy melodies and share group love, including Daniel (Reni Santoni), with thick glasses and medical capabilities, Andrea (Azura Skye), Gwen's young roommate, and Eddie Boone (Viggo Mortensen), a famous baseball pitcher with a drinking problem.
Gwen's experiences in rehab seem truthful and accurate. Her withdrawals and agonies are realistic and knowledgeable. It is obvious the filmmakers and Sandra Bullock thoroughly researched the stresses and details of rehab.
Sandra Bullock performs with the right amount of immaturity and charisma. This wonderful actress is set free in this kind of heart filled role; she is best when the main character. Here, Gwen is free to tread the surface of the movie and still allows other characters to contribute to her defining.
About half way through, the movie losses its much needed focus on Gwen and drifts into detailing relationships, friendships, and other characters. While most of the events that take place surround Gwen, the movie was on the right track with its first half. "28 Days" is smart enough to recognize its blunder, however, and by the final scenes it regains the emotionally correct material and concludes with high standards.
The filmmakers are advertising it as a comedy, but only an isolation of sequences offer hilarity or slapstick. This movie teaches us lessons through its characters. And the lessons are well taught.
There are a lot of good things about 28 Days, especially from Sandra Bullock
and Betty Thomas (Director). Don't be fooled by the advertisers and
trailers, this movie is a drama. There is a little comedy thrown in the mix
to keep things light at times (after all, rehab is a depressing subject),
but the balance is about 80/20% in favor of drama.
Sandra really shines. This movie is all hers and she proves that while bubbly and energetic may be her niche, she can also be gritty and subtle to great effect. She's always been a very solid and dependable actress, but she gets to dig deeper here. She could have played this role in so many ways that would have been easy and predictable, but luckily she gave just the right amount of weight to her character. It's certainly her best acting performance.
Betty Thomas also delivers another strong effort. The pacing and amount of scene time seem just right. There is very interesting camera work and flashback scenes that work very well. I guess the best thing to say is that she made a formula movie (girl bottoms out, girl resists rehab, girl comes to terms and embraces recovery) without boring us with the formula.
In short, the best thing about the movie is what it wasn't. It could have been so cliched (although there were a couple of unavoidable ones) and paint-by-numbers. Instead, it was more subtle rather than over the top.
There are good performances by all, especially Steven Buscemi who plays his small role straight and somber. This film has higher artistic/merit value than it does entertainment value (afterall, how entertaining can a movie about rehab be?). It's a solid 7.
Sandra Bullock does a pretty good job of playing Gwen the drunken party girl who gets herself into trouble. She is not gung ho for a treatment center, but her other option is jail. Actually, I was not sure how she avoided jail at all, and 28 days seemed too short a time for all the hilarity, action and breakthroughs in this film, but other than these things, I was really impressed with Bullock and the ensemble acting - the balance of comedy and drama. The one actor I thought over-acted was in the character of Gwen's boyfriend. He was too much, and it was a relief to see him off the screen. Viggo Mortensen is endearing as the other guy for Gwen. I would like to have seen more of them together. I think people will love the soap opera gags and the send-up of drug/alcohol treatment centers, but will also get the serious nature of the interactions in the "chemistry" among all the characters in treatment in the film.
There is a a very important message at the heart of this Betty Thomas
film: Self Control from Indulgent excesses. The problem: the film
itself tipsily overindulges its themes by balancing good drama with
over-acting and imbalanced doses of comedy.
In a sense, the film knew it was dealing with touchy subject matter when it highlighted the realities of rehab in NY, but why did it need to purposefully throw in the stereotypical comedic archetypes - the viking accented Alan Tursdysk, or O'Malley's strapdown one liners, or for that matter, the debonair English accented intelligent metro lover in Dom West? Perhaps it was in 2000, and you needed to sell films that way to appeal to their target audience of teenagers who did weed and drank too much, but the fact is, when you have Steve Buscemi, Sandra Bullock and Viggo Mortensen in a film you can afford to push the drama-reality envelope and go in that direction.
In fact, the film's best moments are when Thomas does this- in a series of flashbacks to let the audience get in sync and depth with Bullock's character. And, there are scenes where the comedy can be done appropriately and in concordance with the film's thematic content- such as the skit at the end for Azura Skye's character. Sadly, these good moves are coupled with some really tipsy flaws, including the ending where Mortensen's character meets the soap star. Bullock's character also undergoes way too quick a character change (for 28 days) if one was to really nitpick.
However, the themes in this film make this a film i would still recommend to youth and young people. Azura Skye's character's loneliness, depression and suicide are genuinely depicted, and the fragile and important message of hope and redemption amid the perfunctory nature of life in the rehab centre that are celebrated in the plot really help this film regain its footing. When Bullock's character realises that this (the pills and drugs) was not a way to live, and Mortensen addresses her insecurities of not being able to do a single thing right, the film touches significant depths and strikes the chords of viewers. My personal favourite was the scene were Lizzy Perkins' character acknowledges the flaws of hers and her sister's lives and establishes love and hope in reconciliation. You see, it is the film's ability to reach such levels that I know this film suffered from tipsily overindulging its themes-trying to tie in too much to everyone- from being a comedy to a drama.
28 DAYS (2000) **1/2 Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic
West, Diane Ladd, Elizabeth Perkins, Steve Buscemi, Alan Tudyk,
Michael o' Malley, Azura Skye, Reni Santoini, Marianne
Jean-Baptiste, Margo Martindale, Loudan Wainwright III. (Dir: Betty
Addiction is not funny nor is the suffering it inflicts upon the addict and their friends and family but then again all `taboo' subjects have been scrutinized in these politically correct times we live in and here Sandra Bullock, The Girl Next Door that her adoring public has embraced as America's Sweetheart, wades in hip deep into a difficult balancing act as alcoholic/drug abuser Gwen Cummings, in this comedy-drama with more hits than misses - the working title could have been `Party Girl, Interrupted.'
Gwen is a free-spirited New York City based writer who enjoys living it up with her equally party hearty beau Jasper (West) by drinking and binging into the wee hours even if it means nearly missing her older sister Lily's (Perkins) wedding the next day as they stumble to the proceedings nursing a severe hangover quickly remedied by more imbibing at the reception resulting in Gwen losing her balance on the dance floor upsetting the many tiered wedding cake. Undeterred by her scene-causing out-of-control ramifications, Gwen staggers to the newlyweds' limo and careens along a suburban area looking for a `cake shop' to replace the damaged goods only to have her smash the car into a nearby house.
Flash forward to her being sentenced to Serenity Glen, a rehabilitation clinic, the type that offers New Age-y touchie-feely bonding and chanting (`Together! Together! NOOOO Drugs!') and a no-nonsense counselor named Cornell (Buscemi in a nicely handled understated turn) who sees right through Gwen's anger and stubbornness as she attempts to disassociate herself from her chores, group therapy and sneaking pills in via Jasper. After a mishap involving Gwen falling from her window (after a weak attempt to rid herself from the pills), she limpingly begs Cornell for a chance to redeem herself. Her sarcasm slowly drifts away as she comes to grips with her co-dependency on booze and pharmaceuticals thanks largely to her depressed teenage roomie Andrea (Skye) and new patient, Eddie Boone (Mortensen), a baseball pitcher overcoming many addictions including casual sex.
The film works solely on the fresh-scrubbed sexy appeal of Bullock in her range from comic drunkeness (a la `Arthur') to her scary withdrawl and gumption to change her life for the better. The humor comes thankfully to her fellow in-house patients including a gay German dancer (Tudyk who comes across as Andy Dick in `Sprockets') and the parody of a soap opera (`Santa Cruz') that the entire group becomes.well addicted to. It's hard to believe that the subject of a chemically dependent person could be funny, but that isn't the point. The point is that it doesn't make light of the situation at all (including the all-too-forseeable overdose of one of the characters to underscore just how serious it is), but it succeeds on the `patients-running-the-asylum' scenario - sort of a cross-blend of `One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', `Clean and Sober' and `M*A*S*H' with its hysterically, deadpanned homage of loudspeaker announcements.
Director Betty Thomas (`The Brady Bunch Movie', `Private Parts') serves her story by Susannah Grant (`Erin Brockovich') as best she can with interesting camera angles to distort the hyperreality of someone under the influence and able support including stand-up comic O'Malley (late of his short-lived eponymous sitcom) who harbors a not-so-secret crush on Bullock. Bullock does herself a service by starring in a tricky scenario by utilizing her natural acting style and stretching her chops both dramatically and comically.
That quote in my summary is just one of several 'background' announcements
running through the movie. This is a drama which has many fine comedic
moments. Sandra Bullock plays the main character whose life is filled with
booze and pills, and whose sister says at the wedding, "You make it
impossible for anyone to love you." Drunk, and driving the limo to get a
cake to replace the one she and her boyfriend wrecked, she wrecks into a
house. The judge sentenced her to 28 days in jail, or 28 days in rehab.
Rehab is difficult, because of the sobriety. Steve Buscemi plays a straight role as her therapist. The strange agglomeration of characters in her therapy group are reminiscent of "One Flew Over". Viggo Mortensen is a major league pitcher who can't remember what he did last night. Any last night.
This is a good, tender film that addresses a big problem for many people - relying on booze and/or drugs and still believing they can live a normal life. It is by no means a perfect film, nor will it stand the test of time, but I found it very entertaining and meaningful, and rate it a solid "7" of 10.
The DVD picture and sound are fine, but in no way outstanding. The extras are primarily a "making of" HBO special, plus the actual soap opera "Santa Cruz" which was made especially for this film, and has a recurring presence in it.
There comes a time in the career of every performer identified mainly with
lightweight romantic comedy roles to take the plunge into more serious
acting challenges in the hopes that we will see beyond his or her pretty
face and into the heart of the great actor that resides within. And
strangely enough, many of these actors and actresses choose the same exact
route to accomplish this feat that of portraying a person heavily addicted
to drugs and/or alcohol. This was the case with, for instance, Meg Ryan in
`When a Man Loves a Woman' and Michael J. Fox in `Bright Lights, Big City'
to name just a few. Now we have Sandra Bullock attempting to stretch her
thespian muscles by portraying an alcoholic in `28 Days,' the tale of a
young woman's experiences in a detox center located in a bucolic suburb of
New York City.
One of the initial problems with such films is that casting such well-known faces in these parts automatically ends up conferring a bit too much glamour on the situation. And `28 Days' is no exception. It's hard to accept Bullock as a particularly credible person in this role. Still, the movie is generally watchable because it manages to make the people and the rituals at the center seem both utterly addled and emotionally endearing all at the same time. When Bullock feisty, close-minded, smug in her sense of superiority - first arrives after being ordered to the center as a part of her probation, we are as appalled as she is by the touch-feely nature of what is going on there. If anything could keep one from becoming an addict, the threat of being sent to a place like this would just about do it. But then, as the various characters begin to open up and reveal themselves as true hurting individuals, we, like the Bullock character, begin to be won over. But even these people aren't given enough screen time to really grow into fully-rounded, complex characters in their own right.
The film never entirely breaks out of its TV-movie formula. We are treated to all the standard plot devices common to the genre: the inevitable overdose by one of the patients, romantic interludes with a professional baseball player, the clashes between the latter and Bullock's troublemaking boyfriend. One of the problems with glossy studies of addiction such as this one is that, more often than not, we are led to believe that the `cure' is a permanent one not necessarily because the film shows us that (in fact, it makes a few nods in the direction of showing that it ISN'T always permanent) but because the two-hour time frame and the audience demand for a hopeful, upbeat ending inadvertently leave us with that impression. To be fair to the film, it doesn't tie up all the loose ends into a nice pretty package. We are given cause for hope, but the open-ended nature of the final scenes suggests properly that the struggle will go on.
`28 Days' is a film with its heart in the right place. In fact our own hearts go out to it, to Ms. Bullock, to all those involved in its making. We realize that it is difficult to make a film that, on the one hand, yearns to be an uncompromising study of a subject as gritty as this one, yet, on the other, feels the need to appeal to as wide a mass audience as possible. The result, unfortunately, is a film that is too lightweight to be taken seriously, too `entertaining' to be real.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
OK, I admit that I liked this movie - like I confess that occasionally I listen to Anne Murray records (I can say that because I'm secure in my masculinity). Well, actually I liked Sandra. I know, she's not on par with Audrey Hepburn, Merrill Streep, Jodie Foster, or Helen Hunt but, there is a certain charming, disarming aura about her that says to me, "this movie is not great cinema, but love me despite my weaknesses". She's cute, funny (sometimes) and doesn't have to take her clothes off to be sexy.
Enough of my confessions, on to the movie. 28 Days was not "the moving analysis of an alcoholic drug abusing life forced into rehab" movie that I thought it would be (though I didn't have really high expectations to begin with). There were very few profound moments that brought insight into the devastation of alcoholism and drug abuse. In fact, it actually made addiction and rehab look fun (except for the puking your guts out while Sandra's character "dried out"). This movie wouldn't be much help to detour viewers from addiction. That's where I have the biggest problem.
There are two reasons why this movie failed to be impactful: FIRST - the cast and dialog were flat, mediocre, and non-provocative. The actors weren't convincing, they didn't stand out and make their characters memorable. They were very plain-vanilla two-dimensional entities. Even Sandra's character, as much as she charms me, was flat and shallow (again, not that I expected Oscar caliber work from her). I really wanted to bond with these people, to get a sense of what they were going through. It didn't happen. The dialogue was weak as well, which pushed this film further into mediocrity (and clearly didn't give the cast much to work with). There were no truly memorable quotes from any of the characters. There were few emotional scenes, and again, they came off rather flat and mundane. SECOND - the treatment of the subject was shallow and glossy. Addiction and abuse of controlled substances is a much more dangerous and destructive life style than depicted. We only see one mild-to-moderate situation with relatively minor consequences. For example: Sandra's character and boyfriend are late for her sister's wedding, having been drinking all night. They show up drunk and continue to drink until her character looses balance and destroys the wedding cake. She then proceeds to steals a limo and crashes it into someone's front porch (killing a ceramic lawn jockey in the process). Her only injuries are embarrassment and a bloody but not serous bonk on the head. This leads to court, which leads to the rehab assignment and the rest of the movie.
There were two pseudo-emotional scenes that carried the impact of a NERF baseball bat. Sandra's character is required to have a family member come to a counseling session to confront her about her past behavior and, her roommate (very young heroin addict) kills herself with an overdose the morning she is to be discharged. I didn't have a `relationship' with these characters enough to be moved by these events, and the dialogue was so uninteresting that it brought these potentially moving scenes down further. Sure, death of a young addict is tragic but in this film it came across as merely unfortunate. I know, I said I liked this film. Mostly for Sandra's charm, yet there were some small insightful anomalies scattered here and there. For example, some fellow rehabbers were not convinced they had problems. They were uncooperative and didn't take the program seriously. We also get a mini insight (though in a down-played non-event sort of way) into the true recovery rate of these programs. We see one character return after his release, having gone back to his addiction.
I liked the pitching lesson and how Sandra's character was instructed to throw with her eyes closed. The moral implied is that you only have control of the pitch until the ball leaves your hand. Do what you can while you are in control - after that there is no sense in worrying about what you can't control (the serenity prayer condensed). While this was a deep thought, its delivery and source were awkward (it came from an alcoholic pro baseball player in rehab. If he is so enlightened why is there in the first place?).
Another scene I liked was during the `confrontation'. I have to give credit to the writers, director and editors, for what seems to be a well-planed and executed surprise. Sandra's character is hearing her sister rip on her about destroying the wedding. She seems to be unaffected until her sister brings up an embarrassing and offensive drunken toast. She is enraged that her sister would make up such a story but quickly realizes that it really happened, she just doesn't remember it. The impact of this scene is enhanced because we think we have seen all the relevant scenes of the wedding then this comes out of nowhere. For a brief instant we make contact with the main character. We feel as stunned and confused as she does. Very good execution of a stunning and effective device that wasn't destroyed by the film's other weaknesses.
In a nutshell, 28 Days is mildly entertaining for Sandra Bullock fans. It isn't profound or particularly moving, and gives the Hollywood gloss-over to addiction and rehab. There are some redeeming qualities but overall the character development and dialogue are flat, not engaging the viewer. I generously give it a 6/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Gwen Cummings, a spoiled girl with a drinking habit, is a rude person,
just to say the least. She has no redeeming qualities; what's more,
because of her careless behavior she derails her own sister's wedding.
Gwen arrives late at the ceremony; she is ill prepared to be in the
wedding party. She ends up making a mess of the celebration, an
important day for her sister. When she gets caught driving while under
the influence, she is sentenced to 28 days in rehab, something she is
not prepared for.
When she enters a rehab clinic, she thinks she is above all the other inmates. Gwen is in for a rude awakening. Her arrival at the institution doesn't go well at all. She thinks she is above all the inmates that are trying to make something out of their lives. She doesn't relate to anyone in the place. The exception is her roommate Andrea, with whom she develops a somewhat convivial relationship.
The arrival of a baseball player, Eddie Boone, with a substance abuse issue, captures Gwen's attention. As they begin to get closer, her old boyfriend, Jasper, appears in the scene, spoiling whatever Gwen and Eddie had developed in the clinic. The one thing that shatters Gwen is Andrea's suicide attempt. In the end Gwen is able to leave the facility with a somewhat new attitude toward life in general. She also finds out Jasper is not exactly the man she needs.
"28 Days" is a comedy that was tailor made for its star. Directed by Betty Thomas, an actress herself, is not an unpleasant movie to sit through. We saw it when it first came out, but didn't comment on it then. On second viewing, it's not as terrible as we once thought. The screenplay is by Susannah Grant, who wrote "Erin Brockovich", and the much better "In Her Shoes". This film follows in many ways the formula of much of Hollywood pictures and although it begins with a bang, it soon fizzles after Gwen's settles into the clinic's routine.
Sandra Bullock is a good actress who deserves better material. Even though she usually does a lot of comedy, we think she is ripe to do more dramatic roles that will suit her better at this stage of her career. That said, she does well under Ms. Thomas' direction. She is a riot during the first part of the movie. Viggo Mortensen is totally wasted as the baseball player with a drug problem. He is just not believable in this role. Dominic West, an actor that is always good, fares better. Azura Skye has some excellent moments in the film, as does Steve Buscemi, in a straight forward role, different from what he usually plays. Diane Ladd, Reni Santoni, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste do a fine supporting job. Unfortunately Alan Tudyk's neurotic Gerhardt is false from the start. One would have liked to have seen more of Margo Martindale, who has a small part. She is a wonderful addition to any cast. Ditto for Elizabeth Perkins, totally wasted in the film.
Eleven years after this movie hit the screen, I just viewed it. After
seeing pages of reviews, no one will read this, but I will add my 2
cents anyway. I dislike drug rehabilitation movies, abuse movies, and
similar themes, but this one captured my interest during each scene. I
watched it in the morning while finishing last night's left-over gin
that was diluted with water from melted ice from the previous night. I
The reason I dislike rehabilitation movies is that I feel like I'm watching someone else's problems, and I don't like entertainment based on someone else's pain. For those who like this type of entertainment, it is excellent. For those who need a life-changing event, it may serve that purpose too.
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