‘Better Living Through Chemistry’: Not a new formula
A two-star review of “Better Living Through Chemistry,” starring Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Better Living Through Chemistry,’ with Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Norbert Leo Butz, Ben Schwartz, Ken Howard, Ray Liotta, Jane Fonda. Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier. 91 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains strong language and sexuality). Sundance Cinemas, SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.
“Happiness Has No Formula” is the poster tagline for Geoff Moore and David Posamentier’s dark comedy “Better Living Through Chemistry” — unfortunately, the same can’t be said for movies. This well-cast film has a few bouncy moments, but mostly it’s a tune we’ve heard before: Strait-laced small-town married guy meets a seductive, dysfunctional woman; sparks fly; trouble brews. Will they plot to kill her husband? Will he loosen up, both sartorially and emotionally? Will Jane Fonda turn up to provide arch deadpan-bordering-on-disinterested narration for the whole thing? Only one of these answers, alas, is unexpected.
Too bad; with this cast, “Better Living Through Chemistry” could have been a lot more fun. Sam Rockwell, so good in last year’s “The Way Way Back” and still looking for that one great role, plays suburban pharmacist Doug Varney with a weary wryness; you see in him, and his ghostly smile, a man worn down by a life without sparkle. New neighbor Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde) seems able to provide some of that; she’s a purring, silk-clad temptress hooked on pills and excitement. Doug provides the pills, she provides the rest, and soon they’re planning an escape to exotic climes (with Doug warning about mandatory vaccinations) — if only Elizabeth’s inconvenient husband (Ray Liotta) were out of the way.
You watch wishing Michelle Monaghan, as Doug’s wife, had more to do (she’s similarly underused on HBO’s “True Detective”); that Doug’s transformation made more sense; that dark comedy wasn’t so very, very hard to pull off. Despite these good actors and a creepily original opening-credit sequence, “Better Living Through Chemistry” never quite engages; it feels like a remake of a dozen movies, without finding a rhythm of its own.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org