There have been a lot of independent films on the market lately that have caught my attention. Even though they might never get a full nation-wide release or be advertised to the masses, I hope that my reviews help you all find the gems that will expose you to something different than what you'll see from one of the major Hollywood studios. While a lot of these motion pictures feature completely unknown casts, several well-known actors enjoy working on independent features. This is the case when it comes to Better Living Through Chemistry. You might be wondering how two new writer/directors managed to score a cast such as this, but it's good that these actors will work outside of the studio system. While some independent films expose us to completely new concepts that have never been interpreted quite in the same way on film, others follow a similar structure as the Hollywood flicks. This is the case with Better Living Through Chemistry.
Douglas Varney (Sam Rockwell) is a pharmacist who has been experiencing an incredibly uneventful life. However, he finally got his hands on his very own pharmacy, but it still doesn't even have his name on it. His wife, Kara (Michelle Monaghan), is controlling and rude. Doug is an extremely passive man who allows his wife to walk all over him, but he's willing to endure anything in order to stay with his child. However, his life spirals out of control when he starts having an affair with the beautiful Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde), who is married to a rich man (Ray Liotta). This road leads him on a joyride filled with sex, drugs, and possibly murder.
Better Living Through Chemistry begins its story with Doug finally moving into his pharmacy, which he wishes would be entirely his. It doesn't feel as if he owns the place, but he doesn't put up much of a fight. In fact, he doesn't stand up for himself at all. He allows everything and everybody to take advantage of him. We've all seen this type of character in several films in the past. Once he meets Elizabeth, an entire world opens before his eyes. Not only does he learn to take charge, but he begins to develop a lot more confidence in himself. In the process, Doug loses and gains his likability several times. Other than the affair, he makes a lot of questionable decisions that make it difficult to stick with him throughout the entire running time. I found myself drifting in and out with this character. While you'll always find yourself caring about him as a person, he makes some infuriating decisions that make very little sense in the context of the character. However, his moments of realization when he's with Elizabeth are quite special.
This is the feature debut of writer/director Geoff Moore and David Posamentier. With this in mind, the screenplay isn't too shabby. They explore more than the affair that's taking place. Doug's stress is only made even worse by his teenage son, Ethan (Harrison Holzer). His mother is absolutely oblivious and Doug has an extreme difficulty in connecting to him, but he continues to try and form a bond. Even though some of these scenes become a little bit over-the-top, these sequences become rather sweet bits. Even as Doug starts to become unlikable, the relationship that he's trying to form with his son keeps him human. He's trying to reach out to a teenager who clearly has a lot of issues. The more you begin to understand this relationship, the more realistic it feels. Unfortunately, you'll get pulled back out as Agent Andrew Carp (Norbert Leo Butz) continues to dig around the pharmacy in order to count the drug supply. This portion of the running time feels like it's just begging to create tension that just isn't there.
The tension may not work very well, but Moore and Posamentier's comedy is hit and miss. I never laughed very hard, but there are several good chuckles to be had. However, it's apparent that Better Living Through Chemistry is more of a drama with bits of comedy, than it is a comedy with bits of drama. The majority of the humor comes through when Elizabeth and Doug are taking drugs together and talking about crazy situations and what they'd do without their spouses in the way. Fortunately, the comedy and the drama settle well together. The tone is held consistent throughout the entire picture and gradually builds upon itself. However, once you reach the end of the picture, it feels as if something was cut out. While Doug's character development makes sense, the same cannot be said about the plot.
There are two well-known names front and center in Better Living Through Chemistry. Sam Rockwell is quite good in the role of Douglas Varney. He's believable as this pathetic pharmacist, who must find his self-confidence and learn to be a man. Even though we've seen this type of character millions of times before, Rockwell adds a certain charm that makes him unique. Olivia Wilde does a great job as Elizabeth Roberts. She's incredibly convincing in this role, as the film will never lose your attention as long as she's on the screen. Wilde and Rockwell bounce energy off of one another quite well. When they're having conversations while getting high off of Doug's own supply, this becomes quite captivating. The supporting performances delivered by the likes of Michelle Monaghan, Ray Liotta, and Jane Fonda contribute in creating a fun environment that makes this worth checking out.
There isn't necessarily a lot wrong with this film, but it doesn't do very much to be different from the rest of the romantic comedies that come out all year round. There are a few sequences where it pushes itself into new territory, but this extra push should be exhibited throughout the rest of the running time. It fails to have us sitting at the edge of our seats, as it tries very hard to do this at the film's climax. This motion picture is supposed to bank on the likability of the protagonist, but it's difficult to continue rooting for Doug when he makes some of his more unrealistically ridiculous mistakes. Regardless, this is still an entertaining motion picture that held my attention and made me chuckle a few times. Better Living Through Chemistry delivers a passable effect, but it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression after the high has worn off. Rent it.