Better Living Through Chemistry

You'd think that my ability to sympathize with mid life crisis movies would increase as I get older, but the reverse is actually true. When I was younger and I saw a movie about someone struggling with adult problems I thought: oh man, that looks hard. However, now that I'm an adult, when I watch people struggling with failed hopes and dreams there's a part of me that thinks: quit yer bitchin', it's hard for everybody else, too.

For example: Better Living Through Chemistry. This is a comedy-drama-noir about a small town pharmacist named Doug whose wife won't sleep with him and whose kid has gotten suspended from school for smearing poop onto a bully's locker. One day when Doug is delivering his prescriptions he meets a local millionaire's wife who is all hopped up on happy pills, and as soon as he starts an affair with her the dam of pent up emotions breaks free. He starts committing little crimes at first, like vandalizing his own store, but then he works his way up to trying to murder her husband by tampering with his heart meds. Before long, he's getting high on his own supply and his life is completely out of control.

When I was a kid, I would have found it easy to put myself in Doug's shoes. I didn't have a lot of social skills when I was growing up, so I could have sympathized with a man who has no idea what to say to his co-workers, or how to communicate with his wife, or how to bond with his son. As a lonely kid who didn't know how to be less lonely I could have understood why Doug was just waiting around for a blonde bombshell to come around and breathe life into his world. As a virgin, I would have understood why someone would risk throwing all their accomplishments out the window to have mind blowing sex with a trophy wife.

As an adult, however, the whole scenario reeks of bullshit. As a straight white male, I can forgive his sense of entitlement - but he needs to at least acknowledge it before I can let him off the hook. I don't care that he's having an affair, but I do care that he's dishonest with himself about why he's cheating on his wife. His problem is not that his wife and his kid are terrible, his problem is that he has let his relationship with these normal people become terrible. Now instead of doing the hard work of trying to fix the things he let break, he's doing the easy work of sleeping with someone who is bored and high all the time. I can forgive him for that - sometimes you don't have the strength to do whats hard, and sometimes it's impossible to fix something that's broken - but I can't forgive him for blaming everyone but himself when he's part of the problem, too.

Now that I'm older, I have had too many insights into how the world works to simply buy into Doug's one-sided view of the world. There's a scene in Knocked Up where a wife gets into a fight with her husband and tells him "You think because you don't yell, you're not mean. [But] this is mean." That applies here: Doug thinks that just because he isn't overtly spiteful to his wife it's entirely her fault that the marriage is coming unglued, but there are a lot of little ways that he's let her down, too. Does he need more attention than he's getting? Sure, but so does she. Quit yer bitchin', Doug, it's hard for her, too.

Better Living Through Chemistry is a film whose comedy isn't that funny, and it's a noir about a potential murder that isn't particularly suspenseful, but both of those are incidental failings. Mainly this film is a drama about a guy whose life has gotten sidetracked, and it's central failing is that it isn't honest about what caused that detour. Doug's unsatisfying life isn't his wife's fault, it isn't his mistress's fault, it isn't even Doug's fault. In fact, there's no fault at all -  life is just a series of stressful experiences with no road map to connect them together, and that's just that. Complaining about it is no use, because everyone who could Doug hear complain about his suburban house and a steady job that offers access to as many pills as he could possibly want has problems of their own, too. So shut the fuck up, Doug, and get back to work, because it's hard for me, too, and you don't hear me bitchin'.

Winner: The Cat

Better Living Through Chemistry on IMDB