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28 Days

Alcoholism Lite

By Amy Meadows

Staff Writer

Directed by Betty Thomas

Written by Susannah Grant

Starring Sandra Bullock, Steve Buscemi, Azura Skye, Elizabeth Perkins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Susan Krebs

Columbia Pictures

Although 28 Days does not stoop all the way to the depths of predictability by having the main character utter the trite mantra of twelve-step programs (“Hello, my name is Gwen and I’m a ... ”), it comes pretty close. Sandra Bullock tries to stretch her acting capabilities beyond the romantic comedy fluff she has become known for in the past with this role as an alcoholic. The film, however, is stunted by its own lack of scope: it doesn’t dare go beyond the normal portrayals of addiction and rehabilitation. Call it “Alcoholism Lite.”

After ruining her sister’s wedding by showing up drunk and late, stumbling over the wedding cake, toasting her sister’s “compromise,” and finally crashing the limo into the front of a house, Gwen (Bullock) lands herself in the archetypal rehab center -- replete with chanting, singing, and talking about feelings. Then, after 28 days of group therapy, she is a rehabilitated, productive member of society.

Following in the footsteps of a number of actors, including Dennis Miller in Rush, Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, and Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm, Sandra Bullock tries to tackle the role of addict/alcoholic in 28 Days. She does the best with the role that she can, but that bespeaks of some serious problems with the role itself. After spending a mere day in withdrawal, the character then begins to bond with the other patients, become cooperative with her counselor (Steve Buscemi), and befriend the entire staff. It is truly amazing how completely sugarcoated one can make rehab seem.

The main flaw with this movie, other than it being completely unrealistic and predictable, is that it does not pick a genre and stick with it. The tone fluctuates wildly between drama, quirky comedy, and soap opera. Worst of all, because of the changing tone, the actors sometimes appear as if they are acting in different movies.

Bullock’s roommate, a teenage heroin addict played by Azura Skye, brings the most conflict and drama to the movie. Gwen’s sister Lily (the one whose wedding was ruined), is played by Elizabeth Perkins, and similarly adds a heavy dramatic element to the movie. The other characters, however, all act as though the movie is intended to be a comedy. The effect is confusing and annoying.

Instead of being a confused semi-comedy, semi-drama, this movie could have made a much better black comedy. All the elements were in place for such a comedy -- idiosyncratic Steve Buscemi, a patient who sings vignettes about addiction, and an ever-present loudspeaker -- but the cohesive effect was not there. In fact, the acting and the action were too far dispersed for there to be much of any cohesive effect.

28 Days also used interesting camera work in its flashbacks to Gwen’s drunken party-hopping and Gwen’s mother’s own trials with addictions, but the interruption of the action with lights and colors and loud music tends to further confuse the already troubled plot. Moreover, the movement is somewhat nauseating. This may be the intended effect of these scenes, but the plot could use substantial work before these segments could be properly introduced.

28 Days is troubled by plot and character confusion. If only someone had decided what type of movie it should be, the cohesiveness -- and hence the other elements -- would have been dramatically improved.