No one denies the artificial happiness and comfort that drugs can bring, however, those who abuse them often get into trouble, like the protagonists in this 2014 movie, Better Living Through Chemistry.
It all begins with Doug Varney, an unassuming pharmacist in a sleepy small town, bored by the burden of a monotonous, ever-changing existence.
His dreams of becoming a doctor foundered many years earlier, and now he runs the family pharmacy owned by his intransigent father-in-law.
Until a chance meeting with the enchanting and complex Elizabeth turns Doug’s life around for good.
Indeed, despite her luxurious lifestyle, Elizabeth’s sadness greatly resembles his existence, and quickly their bond intensifies, recognizing each other as soul mates.
During this period of boldness and excitement, in addition to becoming lovers, he and Elizabeth experience a new existence altered by drugs, a dangerous balance between pills taken from the pharmacy, and the discovery of aspects of themself.
Doug becomes more self-confident, strengthening ties with his son Ethan, who gets in trouble at school because of his bizarre behavior, although he is actually an intelligent and sensitive boy.
Moreover, after many years of silent marriage, he finally stands up to his wife Kara‘s rigid authority.
However, Doug also gets in trouble for this massive pill use, attracting the attention of a DEA agent, while his fantasies of escape with Elizabeth collide with the reality of their family situation.
But his new woman has a daring plan to get rid of her husband, suggesting that Doug prepare a dangerous cocktail of Eprosartan and alcohol to make it look like an accidental death.
However, he is not entirely sure of the plan, albeit wishing to live with the beautiful Elizabeth, but without becoming a murderer.
Society’s acceptable drugs
We certainly didn’t have to wait for this 2014 movie to see a story with the pursuit of happiness at its core, although Better Living Through Chemistry strangely does so through the use of drugs.
Looking at similar adventures (albeit very different), such as Trainspotting or Scarface, drugs always and inevitably lead to violence and self-destruction.
Directors and screenwriters Geoff Moore and David Posamentier point out how in today’s society, we are all, after all, drug addicts of some sort, and the only difference is whether or not they are substances we can legally obtain.
Indeed, this story does not delve as deeply (as it could) into the long-term effects of an exaggerated drug overdose such as that of the two protagonists, but a compelling critique of the easy prejudice of a particular American affluent class is nonetheless present.
Paradoxically, this prejudice is most severe against the protagonist’s son, the likable little actor Harrison Holzer, who gets in trouble just because thinking and acting differently from the pack.
These two lonely souls find and cling to each other, bringing each other back from their deep discomfort and giving each other the courage they need to change.
We can’t know if the change will really be positive, not even after the ending; although, as an atmosphere, we still remain in the light fun and without any dramatic excess.
This is precisely why I liked it; even though it is a flawed film in some aspects, such as pacing or dialogues that are not always effective, yet the excellent cast amply covers any shortcomings.
Everything can change… with the right pills
So let’s talk briefly about the two sweet, stoned lovers, Doug and Elizabeth, starting with their oppressive families.
Doug is the exuberant and solid Sam Rockwell, along with wife Kara, with the candid face of sweet Michelle Monaghan.
In theory, she should be the complete package for any man: beautiful, brilliant, and with a killer physique. But honestly, she is also a bit too intense, never giving Doug a moment’s respite at home or work since the pharmacy is the property of her father.
Moreover, although he is intelligent, she does not realize how unhappy their son Ethan is. The poor boy does not feel up to par and does not find his place in the world, much like Doug, immobilized by an entire community of people who force him to be what he is not.
Instead, turning to Elizabeth, we are not entirely clear on how things are between her and her husband, played by one of the mourned legends of all movie lovers, Ray Liotta, sadly passed away in 2022.
Everything we know about her marriage, we know from her words, so it may not all be true. But what is certain is that both she and Doug feel they are headed in the wrong direction in life.
Olivia Wilde is much more than just a beautiful woman or a sexy toy to be admired. From the very first episodes of House M.D., we all realized how much of a strong, magnetic personality she had; moreover, playing a lesbian doctor certainly helped her notoriety among the public.
Finally, we are guided through the story by the narrative voice of Jane Fonda, who accompanies us with irony and appears in the finale as a pharmacy customer, when by then, the management had changed completely.