Friday, August 10, 2007

A Man Loves a Woman and the Family Stone

Alcoholism is a favorite subject for the movies. The first film that I saw that dealt with it was 'Days of Wine and Roses' with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. It won an Oscar and featured a poignant love story. Later I saw 'The Lost Weekend' with Ray Milland on television. This Billy Wilder film is a masterpiece and won 4 Oscars. On Wednesday evening we watched the 1994 film 'When a Man Loves a Woman' on DVD. You might think that this strand of movie making is sponsored by AA. This latest version draws attention to the effect of alcoholism on the significant other, and to that extent it is to be commended. Andy Garcia plays the unsuspecting spouse, who, as an airline pilot, is away so often that he doesn't realise that his wife, Meg Ryan, is drowning in vodka. There the unreality begins. Astonishingly, we are supposed to accept the idea that after a quart a day he wouldn't smell the stuff on her breath.

The stars are beautiful people, just like Jack and Lee were. Alcoholics are not. They don't wash; they don't do their hair; they don't dress well; they have food and vomit stains on their clothes; their skin is poor; they have cigarette burns on their clothes and skin. These films deal well enough with the psychological and emotional consequences of alcoholism but they don't deal with the physical. Alcoholics get cirrhosis. They vomit blood. They confabulate. They get violent. Their memories go. They get skin sores. It doesn't make nice viewing. This version had an unbelievable happy ending. Ugh! So not true. Basically a commercial for AA.

The Family Stone was one of those ensemble pieces with Clare Danes, Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson and Sarah Jessica Parker, who I gather has had some celebrity from a television series. She place an uptight Manhattan executive who is exposed to a 'Meet the Family' situation. It is nothing like as funny as 'Meet the Family' and not even as funny as 'Meet the Fokkers', which was a disappointment. Astonishingly, this was nominated for a Golden Globe. The parents have a liberal approach to life. One is reminded of the old joke: "My mother made me a homosexual." "If I gave her the wool would she make me one too?" Parker is unlikable. Redemption comes from a bit of bed-swapping and a bit of slapstick. Not true.

If you are thinking of watching either of these movies that both score 6/10 on the web, I wouldn't bother, though the first is marginally better for its emphasis on the suffering of the spouse, rather than the alcoholic. If you are looking for a really good film on alcoholism try the Billy Wider, But others worth a look include Leaving Las Vegas with Nicolas Cage and I'll Cry Tomorrow with Susan Hayward.


Anonymous said...

Although some alcoholics do, in fact, cease to wash, live under bridges, lose their homes, families and self-respect - not all fit this category. There are what we refer to as "functional" alcoholics who, fortunately, have "higher bottoms" and who manage to get themselves into an AA program and recover before they have fallen into such demoralization. And, by the way, AA does work for many, many people all over the world. How do I know this?? I am a recovering alcoholic. I haven't had a drink in 7-1/2 years, thanks to AA. We are never "cured" - I dare not take that first drink or I will be back in the grips of the progressive disease of alcoholism. Because of the AA program, I have managed to remain sober through the trials of my husband's CLL, and the last couple of years have been brutal. That is a miracle as far as I'm concerned. Please don't stereotype alcoholics.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you about the movies.
Billy Wilder was just amazing. I thought the movies you mentioned were flat out a waste of time. Having a
hard time finding enjoyable movies made in the past few years.
Just finished one put out by Masterpiece Theatre, will be exploring, most enjoyable.

Terry Hamblin said...

Yes, I probably am stereotyping alcoholics. Sorry. Of course, many good people get off the drink, but the AA movies always seem to have an uplifting message, which is not always the truth. From my perspective I have seen too many alcoholics who have drunk themselves to death. I well remember a young wife who foolishly took on an older drunk who had no intention of stopping no matter what lies he told her. She railed against me and punched my chest because I did not stop him drinking. As if I could.

The current ststistics on alcohol abuse are very worrying and one of the greatest scourges in the UK. Contributary factors here are the relatively low price, the easy availability even for relatively young people (this contrasts with the States), and the general acceptability in the media and elsewhere. Getting sloshed is presented as a fun thing to do. I see it very differently. When my daughter comes home from work to tell me how she has seen a 27 year old woman dying from cirrhosis with unstoppable vomiting of blood, I think that even prohibition would be better, if only it worked. I long for the day when drinking alcohol is seen as antisocial as smoking.

OK, a glass or two of wine or a couple of beers is fine, but so many people do not know when to stop.

Anonymous said...

Juat found your blog. Interesting information about CLL. My father was diagnosed appx 1.5 years ago. So far only elevated white counts. This is the first I have heard that CLL comes in two forms. Where can I find more information abou your research?
My e-mail is

Anonymous said...

It is a complex issue, but prohibition is not the answer. I rarely drink, and obviously have no problem with alcoholism, but on occasion I do like a beer or a glass of wine.

I have known several alcoholics. One was a relative. He was sober for a dozen years with the help of AA, but took to drinking and never stopped. He was a functional alcoholic as well; he had a home, worked, and was mainly in control of his drinking. He just drank too much of the time.

He died at age 46 from esophageal bleeding. It was tragic. He knew he was putting his life at risk, but he said the pain of not drinking was worse than the thought of death.

There is obviously a difference between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. Genetic or not, the answer to alcoholism is out there. What a wonderful day it would be for a cure to be found.

Anonymous said...

Apropos to this blog entry:

Does the desire to consume alcohol and tobacco come from our genetic makeup?

Austin, TX Adoption and twin studies have shown that the use of these substances is likely to be inherited.

The researchers identified an area relating to alcohol and tobacco use on chromosome 1. They found another area relating to alcohol on chromosome 3. On chromosome 4, they uncovered an area relating to smoking and found sex-specific loci inside some of these areas.

"Genome-wide Scan for Genomic Determinants of Alcohol and Tobacco Use in French Canadian Families."

The American Physiological Society (APS;

justme said...

I have heard that too, which is precisely why I don't drink at all. My grandfather was a chronic alcoholic. He could never hold down a job because of it, which left his family struggling for the very basics in life.