Movie Review: 'Better Living Through Chemistry' (2014)

There were expectations that this film would be a dark comedy in the vein of Steve Martin’s “Novocain”, offbeat and a tad wacky with some actual comedy to spare. The dull and listless “Better Living Through Chemistry” slogs through the sad life of Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell).

Doug's days consist of working at his father-in-law’s pharmacy, and filling the prescriptions of local residents. Then one day a meeting with the wealthy and married Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde) changes everything or so you’d think.

For one who has ever wondered about the familiar neighborhood pharmacist and what their life outside of hearing about people’s latest health crisis or advising them on drug interaction might pertain, this is a disappointment.

The ripe for the taking mirth of uncomfortable human questions shared between a customer and pharmacist would seemingly be the set-up to some hilariously awkward high jinks. Well, not so much. “Better Living...” manages to skip that boat for the most part. 

That is just the beginning of several missed opportunities and disjointed plot points. For example, an unnecessary narration by Jane Fonda continually hampers the action. There are not enough plot intricacies to require a third party to explain the mundane details of the script.

At one point, the narration provides color commentary for a sexual encounter that is being visually demonstrated, something that is beyond repetitive. Why the director(s) felt viewers would benefit from an omnipotent voice spelling out what can clearly be seen is downright insulting to audience member’s intelligence.

Sam Rockwell, as always, proves to be the saving grace of a faltering script and this is no exception. His charming patter and Varney’s disillusionment with the world is an easily sympathetic plight that Rockwell plays to perfection.

If only he were given more to do. It’s like watching a genius retake kindergarten as the sublime Rockwell sifts through a role, he can do in his sleep. Olivia Wilde’s performance as the “femme fatale” is simply odd as she plays the drug-fueled, daze of her character to the point of bland confusion.

Michelle Monaghan commendably steps outside of her repertoire to deliver a humorously overwrought turn as the Type-A wife of Rockwell’s Varney. It’s a performance that she restrains from cartoonish camp by employing sharp, line delivery and an astute use of facial expressions. Ray Liotta also turns in a memorable, albeit brief performance.

There are some funny moments that propel "Better Living..." forward. Though it is vastly undermined by an indistinct narrative that seems confused as to its own purpose, both in what it is trying to say and how it wants to say it, it is ultimately rendered speechless. Rating: 6.1/10

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