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Alternative Depictions of Addiction in Film: 28 Days

While many modern depictions of abuse, addiction, and alcoholism are reserved, nuanced, and informed, some simply aren’t. For one reason or another, some films approach addiction or substance abuse from a comedic perspective; while there’s nothing wrong with intelligent, well written humor, if it misses its mark it can come off as ill-informed and in poor taste. 28 Days, directed by Betty Thomas, is a film that in trying to make light of alcoholism and addiction trivializes the issue. While the intent of the film surely wasn’t to minimize and down play the severity of addiction, 28 Days still depicts rehab and addiction as lighthearted and superficial experiences.

The film begins with Bullock’s character, Gwen Cummings crashing her own sisters wedding while extremely drunk. She steals the limousine outside and crashes
it into a building. As punishment, she must choose between rehab or jail. She opts to spend 28 days in rehab, and thus begins her journey of self discovery. Along the way, she is tempted again and again, only to overcome her past addiction with the help of her fellow addicts. She falls in love with another addict, only to throw both her current and past relationships into turmoil when a confrontation between the two men turns violent. After rehab, they meet again, supposedly continuing there relationship after the film ends.

Where the film misfires is in its depiction of many of the practices in rehab and recovery. Gwen mocks the other characters when they participate in group therapy or meditation. Their practices are made to look foolish to the viewer as well, as we are experiencing rehab through Gwen’s eyes. Her experiences when hitting rock bottom are also made to appear funny and lighthearted, but due to a combination of awkward writing and poor execution, the events seem like pratfalls from an old silent film, only with none of the humor. Instead, we see Gwen as an almost comedic element rather than an actual character we can align our perspectives and empathy with. It’s also difficult to believe her as a character when she shows little to no remorse for her actions and belittles those that do. The rehab sequences are often awkward and portrayed with an apparent cutting bias, only to shift completely by the end of the film to a pious yet hypocritical stance that rehab is a wonderful experience, despite displaying the contrary to us for the entire film.

While 28 Days may be attempting to display the inner-workings of rehab, and how even the most severe addictions can be helped, it comes off as an insincere Cinderella story. Gwen, despite her addiction, is seemingly perfect and unfazed by virtually everything she experiences. Real and effective rehab can be difficult, but by the end, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, and how we can improve ourselves and the world around us. Rehab is a fantastic and rewarding experience, yet the world of film still seems unable to approach the concept correctly. That may be due in part to the fact rehab is different for everyone, and no one character can embody the experience entirely. Hollywood also tends to aggrandize everything. 28 Days is to rehab what Die Hard is to the average workday. Rehab is a wonderful thing, and fiction can sometimes paint the wrong picture for those considering it.