While the subject of addiction as a whole has had its fair share of outings on the silver screen, the particular issue of recovery from addiction has generally received less cinematic attention. But while they may be less common, there are still some films out there that document the challenges of going into treatment and living in recovery. Here’s five of the best.
First screened as a TV film on CBS in 1989, My Name is Bill W. tells the story of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and himself a lifelong recovering alcoholic. The film received numerous Emmy nominations, including for James Woods as Bill Wilson and James Garner as Dr Robert Holbrook. The film portrays Wilson’s efforts to establish a method that will help those struggling with their addiction while also coming to terms with his own.
With a tour-de-force performance from actor Michael Keaton as a self-destructive real estate agent with a substance abuse problem, Clean and Sober is one of the few productions to be set almost entirely in a rehab clinic. Like most people suffering from addiction, the main character in the film does not believe he has a problem, and only goes into rehab to avoid the law. While there he begins to learn about himself, admits to his reckless behaviour and sets out on the path to recovery.
This film tells the story of an alcoholic woman and her husband’s struggle to cope with her condition. When Alice goes in for treatment, Michael takes over the raising of their children. But when she comes out of rehab and becomes part of the family again, Michael finds it hard to accept that she is once again the one in control, which threatens their entire marriage. With strong performances from both Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia, When A Man Loves A Woman paints an excellent portrait of the toll dependency can take on the other partner in a relationship.
Starring Jeff Bridges as alcoholic country singer Otis Blake, Crazy Heart provides a brilliant case study of how those recovering from addiction must come to terms with the mistakes they’ve made in the past and the people they’ve hurt. After suffering a car accident and a break-up, Otis decides to go into rehab and change his ways. He learns that while he cannot undo the past, he can be thankful for the present and hopeful for the future.
Sandra Bullock stars as a drug and alcohol addicted newspaper columnist who checks into rehab to avoid a jail sentence after an incident at her sister’s wedding. Initially reluctant to accept her condition, she eventually confronts the mistakes of her past and regains the necessary self-esteem to embark on a better future. Despite the comic undertones throughout the film, 28 Days is good at illustrating how hard it can be for people suffering from addiction to acknowledge they have a problem.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | November 15, 2019