Duane Hopwood (2005) - Matt Mulhern
There's a certain tenderness that sifts its way through "Duane Hopwood", a post-Friends starring vehicle for David Schwimmer that navigates the tentative dialogue between alcoholism and the dark cloud that hangs not just above the individual, but those who surround themselves around the afflicted throughout their darkest days. Take comfort in them, as they are the saints who prop you up when you're down and show you life's little rainbows over the puddles of rain.
There's considerable sincerity in Matt Mulherns second feature and credit has to go to its cadre of performers who are mainly made up of fairly well known stand-ups and comedians. They shed their onstage personas to become real people and it shows that the understanding they share also allows these actors to have better chemistry among themselves. Schwimmer, in particular, breaks his personal mould and gives a nuanced, careful portrayal of a man teetering on life's edge. His perpetual hangdog exterior allows Duane some measure of sympathy even through the most appalling decisions that he has made.
In one astoundingly bad decision, he drives his youngest child home while drunk and in the process loses the only things that has tethered his life together in an uncaring courtroom that does not deal in circumstances but the cold, hard facts of Duane's unforgivable mistake. That instance proves too much for his wife, Linda (Janeane Garofalo) to handle. She's not an uncaring woman in any respect, just a mother who does not gamble the lives of their two young daughters with the hope of her husband changing anytime soon.
"Duane Hopwood" does not make a caricature out of its titular character, and it does not pile on the disheartening melodrama out of alcoholism. While not concerning us with the issues of why and how Duane becomes who he is, it does specify that it's a whole different world for alcoholics especially the ones deep in denial. It truly excels in crafting a delicate and carefully drawn portrait of an alcoholic who's made mistakes in his life and has to find a way to live through them. Understanding in only a way that comes to those who observe life through fortitude, it's genuine in the sense of showing ordinary people in ordinary situations who react in ordinary ways. They cope and the film is thoughtful enough to refrain from putting cinematic spins on issues that are already inherently interesting.
Thankfully, its mindful of not becoming too much of a downbeat, despairing approximation of Duane's life. Despite everything, he is surrounded by friends and family who still love and yearns for him to be happy. They never forget that he is a good worker, a good father and a good husband cursed with flaws that are slowly taking him over. It's frequent, but low-key sense of humour does hint of the redemption that waits around the corner for the wretched. "Duane Hopwood" is ultimately about picking up the pieces and moving on, and not about fixing what's broken.