leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Debra Granik's debut feature, developed at the Sundance Institute, is a quietly harrowing chronicle of addiction and fragile recovery anchored by Vera Farmiga's intense performance as a blue-collar housewife whose decision to kick her long-term cocaine addiction shatters her already precariously balanced life. Irene (Farmiga) lives in upstate New York, where the winters are gray and long. Her job as a supermarket checker is mind-numbing and her marriage is in the doldrums, though she loves her two small sons dearly. She isn't a stereotypically out-of-control user: Bills get paid, she goes to work, she doesn't have wild freak-outs or turn tricks on the side but she knows in her gut that addiction is eating away at the edges of her life and sooner or later it's going to get to her center. Irene's husband and most of their friends all do a little something on the side — a joint here, some black-market painkillers there, usually washed down with all-too-legal liquor. So Irene's rock bottom is less melodramatic than the waking-up-in-gutter stuff of rehab clichés, though it still shakes her to the core: Short of cash, she finds herself at her dealer's door in the dead of night, trying to pay for a gram with her son's birthday check from Grandma. Irene checks herself into a local facility, where she's encouraged by nurse Bob (Hugh Dillon), himself a heroin addict in recovery. But her reentry into the world is shaky; her husband and friends still use and she's actually less efficient at work without the cushion of a chemical buzz. When her supervisor takes her to task for her declining performance, she grudgingly admits that she's in recovery, and he fires her for violating company drug policies. Irene and a friend she made in rehab start a house-cleaning business, but she's too rattled to keep herself on the straight and narrow without something to lean on. So she turns to Bob, and their affair shatters what's left of her marriage and throws a whole new set of obstacles in the way of her road to recovery. Shot in a near-documentary style on digital video with a mix of professional actors and amateurs, this stark, clear-eyed film started life as a Sundance Film Festival award-winning 1997 short. It scrupulously avoids almost every convention of addiction movies, from the sleazy spectacle of drug-fueled decline to maudlin emotional fireworks and ends on an ambiguous note that will disappoint viewers looking for conventional uplift but feels all too sadly true.