Movies about alcoholism, or any addiction for that matter, can be very depressing. Unfortunately, many of us have personal experiences with addicts and therefore, addiction-themed movies can hit close to home. From the opening montage of DUANE HOPWOOD, you know this is going to be a downer of a film. They take us from the happy times in Duane’s (David Schwimmer) life straight to the point where things get really bad.
That point comes when Duane is pulled over for driving drunk. It probably would’ve been a normal “watch yourself” kind of instance, but what made matters so bad is that he had his little girl in the car at the time. This was a good move on the part of the filmmakers because without that, we could’ve started to feel sorry for Duane. But when he willingly jeopardizes his child’s life, the audience tends to be less forgiving. However, Duane’s problems don’t stop there. After he loses his license, he runs into trouble at work and then his ex wife (Janeane Garofalo) tells him she’s moving away with her new boyfriend. No job, no license, no wife, no child; his life is in shambles.
There’s also a side story with his friend/roommate, Tony (Judah Friedlander). This was an interesting choice because he seems like he’s there for comic relief and to be the voice of reason, but even though I liked him, I didn’t think his character worked very well. He didn’t get involved with Duane’s alcoholism or any of his personal problems and even when Duane embarrassed him at work, he still kept his distance. The film could’ve used a similar character, but one that Duane trusted and respected, like a father or a brother. That could’ve helped Duane reach his turning point in a more convincing manner.
For anyone that has ever dealt with an addict, you know that the most important step for them is to accept they have a problem and that their addiction is the cause of most of the grief in their life. Without that, you never get anywhere with them and they never move past their problem. With that in mind, I don’t think Duane Hopwood ever gets to that point. Even when things are going horrible for him, he still seems to be in denial about his addiction. This is important to note because without this admission, Duane’s character arc is extremely limited. We follow him as alcohol destroys various aspects of his life, but we never get the feeling that he realizes that.
That’s not to say there isn’t some redemption. There are a few quick cuts that make you think he’s going to turn his life around. But without that all important admission, everything falls flat for me. It’s not that I need a happy, Hollywood ending, but if you’re going to end on a positive note, you have to make it count. In this case, I think they would’ve been better just letting the movie end on a sadder note. Yes, it would have been depressing, but I think there would’ve been a better lesson in there and it would’ve fit better with what we witnessed.