Hollywood adores alcoholics. From I'll Cry Tomorrow to Days of Wine and Roses. From Arthur to to every version of A Star is Born. Then, of course there’s this year’s Oscar winner, Another Round, with Mads Mikkelsen, where you get four drinkers for the price of one rental.
And no wonder! A study of a few years ago, published in JAMA Psychiatry, noted that "12.7 percent of the U.S. Population now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder." Who doesn't enjoy viewing their neighbors’ vices on the big or small screen as played by stars? All the DTs without the smell of stale beer and unemptied ashtrays.
Director Kirby Voss adds to this ever-growing genre with his detox feature, We All Think We're Special, that comes with a warning: "Do not attempt substance withdrawal unless under the care of trained medical personnel." This is preceded by a semi-comic note that I missed the first time around: "The following is based on a true story. It contains neither medical advice nor wisdom."
The tale begins with a most unglamorous shot of an actor, showcasing stringy hair, dirt-clogged pores, ravaged skin, and watery squinting eyes. This could either be a David Lynch romantic hero or an ad for Bioré skincare products. However, it's our anti-hero, Charlie Incandenza (Jared Bankens), a math teacher at a community college, who started guzzling liquor prepuberty. He lives on a $2 million family estate that he thought he was going to inherit. Instead, his now deceased mother left everything to Alcoholics Anonymous. She certainly had a black sense of humor.
Well, before you can uncork your Sauvignon, Charlie screams aloud as if the devil just stuck a pitchfork up his butt. Jump cut. By the swimming pool, Charlie and his pal Edward Gately (William McGovern), a newly religious gay car mechanic, are gulping down spirits as if there’s no tomorrow. Between swallows, they banter.
Edward: You're an asshole when you drink.
Charlie: I always drink.
Edward: You’re always an asshole.
Charlie: I'm much worse when I'm sober, I promise.
But will we ever see Charlie sober? If Edward has his way, we will. The caring chum drains $500 of spirits down the sink, but does he know what he's in for? Admittedly, he has been googling online for some detox advice, but then Charlie might be a special case. After all, he drinks from a bottle of vodka while showering.
As the hours without liquor trickle by, Charlie shouts, "I'm not an alcoholic!" "I'll find booze before you find God!" "Do you know what it feels like to be different from everyone . . . and not be special." Plus "I'm a Darwinian failure."
When the script allows Charlie to really let loose, he comes off as a half-Bukowski/half-Dostoyevsky hybrid. Think Notes from the Underground:
" . . . [I]t it is in despair that we find the most acute pleasure, especially when we are aware of the hopelessness of the situation...."
This low-budget two-hander, which delves into the emotional abyss of the unloved who think gin is the answer to their salvation, captures, with its solid cinematography, score, and editing, the deliriousness of acute alcoholism. A few times, though, it comes pretty close to Tommy-Wiseau-ness, but nearly always sidesteps this extreme. Clearly, Bankens and McGovern give their all to their parts, and Voss knows how to stretch pennies and work his cast. The screenplay, especially its WTF ending, could be finessed a little, but if you find a bottle of tequila in your teen’s sock drawer, lock them in the room with WATWS, and they'll never drink again, possibly not even water.
(Cinema Epoch's We All Think We're Special is available On Demand (Amazon/Tubi) and Digital platforms from June 4th.)