Hollywood can’t stop making films about addiction and drugs — and it’s exhausting
Hollywood can’t stop huffing and puffing.
And I don’t mean celebrities’ annoying political bloviating during awards season speeches.
Movies, lately, have become littered with drugs and booze.
At the Sundance Film Festival in January, I watched depressing flick after depressing flick about dealers, addicts, good trips, bad trips, pills, pot, meth, coke, Rohypnol, injectable steroids and more like I was perusing a Tijuana pharmacy.
Drugs rained down in comedies, dramas, horror and biopics. If there had been a kids’ film about a crackhead talking duck, nobody would have blinked an eye.
By the end of the week, I had overdosed on the stuff.
This critic jetted home to New York in critical condition. Before my bleary eyes, the Sundance Film Festival had morphed into the Substance Film Festival.
Is widespread drug abuse an extremely relevant issue in America? Obviously.
But just as screamingly apparent is that a kilo of deflating, predictable movies about narcotics and dope are not going to bring hesitant audiences back to struggling movie theaters.
Some of the films were good, some were awful.
But inhaled en masse, it’s not a good scene, maaaan.
You could dismiss the downer trend, if you like, as a one-off blip at a notoriously edgy mountain gathering of indie lovers.
And maybe it was.
However, the venerable Park City, Utah, event, founded 40 years ago by Robert Redford, still carries formidable weight in the movie world and offers a frequently accurate glimpse into what’s on American filmmakers’ minds right now — and what will land in local theaters and on streaming this year.
Some years that obsession is with ripped-from-the-headlines dramas and shocking documentaries such as “Three Identical Strangers” and the harrowing Michael Jackson expose “Leaving Neverland.”
Other editions gravitated toward heartwarming fare like “CODA” or “Little Miss Sunshine.”
The horror classics “Blair Witch Project,” “The Babadook” and “Get Out” all premiered there, too.
In 2023, however, many of the big hits were of the bong persuasion.
Early on, I caught David Schwimmer’s darkly comic “Little Death.”
In the first half, the “Friends” actor plays Martin, a frustrated TV writer — and ravenous pill addict.
In the second half, Dominic Fike and Talia Ryder enter as friends AJ and Karla — addicts and dealers.
A drug run gone wrong sets the story in motion.
The lineup of such movies was far from sober, er, over.
Another addiction story took us on a bender: Saoirse Ronan as a raging London alcoholic whose life implodes and then is forced to go through tortured withdrawal on a Scottish island in “The Outrun.”
Even young-adult fiction wanted in on the action.
In a quirky romance called “My Old Ass,” an 18-year-old girl trips on mushrooms in the Canadian woods, hallucinates and then comes face-to-face with her 39-year-old self, played by Aubrey Plaza.
By this point, I was praying for the next “Napoleon Dynamite” to come perk me up.
No such luck.
On the final day came actor/director Chiwetel Ejiofor’s “Rob Peace,” the tragic true story of an underprivileged black teen in New Jersey who makes it to Yale, but is later forced into marijuana selling to pay for his dad’s court fees.
In the end, he’s killed by a rival drug lord.
Clearly the Garden State isn’t best-known for its daffodils.
Because within hours, I watched actor River Gallo as a fictional Jersey intersex prostitute and meth dealer in the cliche-rife “Ponyboi.”
At the start, a john has a heart attack and dies during sex after he inhales some bad “Tina” (meth)in the back room of a laundromat.
Watching so many movies with a heavy focus on drugs was, of course, pretty bleak.
Most viewers wouldn’t be able to stomach it.
But beyond the drab mood was an exasperated feeling of “this again?” The plots stopped seeming brave and risky so much as lazy.
Drugs not only provide a quick high, but they hand filmmakers an easy-to-follow movie recipe.
Addicts make uninhibited, big-personality protagonists that come packaged with a relatable battle to fight.
Dealing takes characters on tense door-to-door journeys through major cities, meeting kooky associates, in the dead of night.
And there’s always at least one big scene for a lead actor to puke, cry and pound their fists all the way to an Oscar campaign.
Small thinking and a lack of creativity, I reckon, explain the prevalence of these films better than a groupthink desire to address a noteworthy issue head-on.
After all, when isn’t the US facing a slew of problems?
Right now, there’s a migrant crisis, an obesity epidemic, eye-gouging grocery bills and diplomatic involvement in foreign wars.
I didn’t sit through seven movies about any of those topics.