Better Living Through Chemistry (2014)


You may never look at your local chemist in the same way ever again.
In 2010, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story that Geoff Moore and David Posamentier had agreed to collaborate on their own screenplay of the same name for Occupant Films. Yep, we’re going back that far. Back as early as 2010, Paul Rudd was on board to play the role that Sam Rockwell eventually ends up with here. That being Doug Varney, amiable pharmacist in his father-in-law’s business, about to take the reigns as his father-in-law finally retires. There were further cast changes before getting anywhere near filming, including that of Jeremy Renner, who replaced Paul Rudd in the lead role for a short period
Put upon by his driven, opinionated and abrasive wife, played here by Michelle Monaghan, life was simple enough for Doug. It may not have been the life he had been expecting, or even wanted, but it was secure, unsurprising and dull. The small-town life does not suit everyone, after all.
Events take a turn for the eyebrow raising when Doug meets Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde, in a part originally intended for Jennifer Garner before she fell pregnant for the third time), a bored, listless and gorgeous trophy wife who wanders her palacial home bought for her by her husband, drinking copiously and popping pills to keep her smiling, when all around her is loneliness and sorrow.
Filmed over five short weeks in Maryland, this tightly scripted, somewhat niche, independent effort will continually make you smile. Rockwell brings his usual blend of charisma and incredulity, seen before in the likes of Choke and Seven Psycopaths. His portrayal of Doug, a genuine good guy on the path to new discoveries and a dawning realisation that he could have exactly the life he wanted if he just put his hand out and took it is interesting to behold, and a salutory lesson for those that think the answers to all of their problems lie in the bottom of a bottle of prescription medication.
Mild-manned becomes reckless and, dare we say it, happy. At least for a while. We witness the spiral that Doug enters into with the aid the pills he has been giving to others that reside on the very shelves he works around every day, and the often hilarious consequences that befall this new recruit to the medicated army of pharmaceutical dependence.
Buoyed by his new highly-charged relationship with Elizabeth, Doug becomes more carefree, letting this new world open up before him, allowing himself the luxury of hedonism for the very first time. Enveloped in their new love affair, he and Elizabeth hatch a plot so that they may both free themselves of the emotional shackles that currently bind them. Needless to say, their plan doesn’t go to, well, plan.
The supporting cast here are old hands, suitably able and effortlessly talented, each and every one of them. Monaghan’s Kara, a patronising, control-freak that appears to have tired of Doug and his lack of drive years ago, is not usually seen leaping to roles that cast her in a negative light and it could have backfired, but she does more than enough to make the audience dislike her, if only for the harsh treatment of the loveable Doug.
Femme fatales don’t come any more alluring than Olivia Wilde, who could play the role of Elizabeth in her sleep, had she a mind to. This is not challenging work for her, but she is excellent as the apparently new raison d’etre for Doug’s existence. She smoulders with a purpose. For a while, the audience will wonder if she will show a different side as she keeps you guessing with regard to her true intentions.
In all, a very enjoyable hour and a half that will entertain you throughout. The writing is excellent as is the delivery. It is a simple tale, told with some nice embellishments from a great cast. You will do very well not to grin almost throughout. It has relatively few laugh out loud moments, but nonetheless, you can expect to be impressed by this project that zips by without you so much as missing the time.

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