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28 Days

Review by Jason Morrison

28 Days is a strange, strange movie.

The 28 days the title refers to is the length of time main character Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock) has to spend in rehab after crashing a limo into a house. Gwen is an alcoholic and just a little dependant on pain medication, too. But this is a comedy. I think.

The film opens with a montage of drunkenness, as Gwen and boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West) party the night away at a bar. The next morning they wake up late for her sister Lily's (Elizabeth Perkins) wedding. They hop in a cab, drinking on the way, stagger through the ceremony, and, we find out later, insult the groom. Finally Gwen goes full-tilt into the cake, and steals the limo to go replace it.

Already the movie is confusing. The drunken-party scene is fairly effective, blaring music and blurring vision. But falling into a cake and hijacking a limo is straight out of a low-brow comedy. I think they cut that scene from Billy Madison.

Gwen shows up at rehab, immediately regretting she didn't pick the place in the city. Everyone's chanting, they take away her cell phone and the bucolic setting just isn't natural for a New Yorker like herself. She deals with such hardships as losing her pain pills and the commissary running out of cigarettes and meets her group-a group of exactly the kind of "colorful" (read cliched) characters you'd expect. There's the sassy black lady, the pale dark-haired teenager hooked on soaps, the crusty old man, and even a really silly gay guy. Except they're not just comic relief-each one has ruined his or her life with substance abuse and is there trying to pick up the pieces.

Except the group sessions are so funny. The counselor keeps telling them to use "feeling words" no matter what they say and Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk), the gay guy, is hilarious-his German accent and mannerisms are really offbeat.

Gwen starts out flaunting the rules, eventually asking a bystander how to score something in rehab. The bystander turns out to be her personal counselor, Cornell (Steve Buscemi). Within a couple days Jasper visits and sneaks her out to get drunk and Cornell's ready to kick her out-and into jail.

Gwen spends the next day trying not to take the pills Jasper smuggled her. She can't sit still and the sobriety is enough to make her jump out of the window. This, apparently, is enough of a shock to make her actually want to clean herself up.

But there's a lot more for Gwen to go through. She meets and flirts with Eddie Boone (Viggo Mortensen), a hunky baseball player. Her 17-year-old roommate, Andrea (Azura Skye), cuts herself when her mom doesn't show up for family counseling. And Gwen's own attempt at family counseling goes awry when she can't remember how badly she messed up her sister's wedding, much less apologize.

Jasper then proposes to her, smuggling in some champagne. At this point it's obvious even to her that he just doesn't get it. And all the while there are flashbacks to her childhood, when her drunken mom took them sledding on furniture and was passed out on the floor each morning.

Some parts, like the flashbacks to her childhood, are weak and ineffective in any way. Her mom is just so ludicrous, and the little vignette that shows how alcoholism is bad for your kids (almost getting hit by a car when sledding) avoids the heart of the matter so pointlessly as to make it almost, but not quite, funny. The flashbacks to drunken parties are also a mixed message. The blurred, tight camera angles and harsh music make it clear these are bad experiences, but in all of them she has an incredibly good time with seemingly no ill consequences. The parties, in fact, are so reminiscent of 80 percent of college social life that it's hard to say, "oh what a tragic life she leads."

In fact, though it would seem this movie has a pro-clean living message, it's no where near as successful in that direction as say Trainspotting or Citizen Ruth. Where those movies made the main characters' lives seem hollow and horrible, 28 Days has a hollow take on Gwen's hollow life.

But then whole sledgehammers of tragedy fall from the sky. The craggy old man character lost his medical license because his stomach-pumping scheme (to avoid hangovers) went awry, taking out his trachea. The sassy black lady is struck by her children's pleas. And a tragic death at the rehab center would seem to set this movie clearly as a drama.

But then some parts are really funny, and not funny-but-to-make-you-sad-you're-laughing. Tudyk has more than a few good lines as Gerhardt, who makes up for being little more than comic relief by being actually funny. Even Bullock has a few good jabs at the rehab staff.

Bullock is adequate as Gwen, who stays fairly hollow throughout the film. It's hard to believe her character can be so self-centered in the beginning and so utterly oblivious to the consequences of her actions and she doesn't really have much of a progression to a new self, either. But that's more the script's fault than Bullock's. At least she's not playing a nerdy girl who takes off her glasses and is then beautiful (see The Net, Love Potion Number 9, and While You Were Sleeping.)

And the best performance in the whole movie simply disappears. Buscemi, who usually plays psychos or weirdos (really well), plays Gwen's councilor with a balance of self-empowerment and weary resignation. This glimpse of what Buscemi can do with normal human being roles is so impressive hopefully he'll see more of the same in the future.

So what do you do with 28 Days? It won't keep kids off drugs. Gwen isn't much of a character. But some parts are very touching and other parts are very comic. This is one of the most uneven movies in recent memory, not counting Mission to Mars' plunge from mild cheese to raunch bomb. But at least it's not wholly conventional in that respect. That's always nice to see, at least theoretically.


(Out of five)

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