One of my first “real jobs” was working at a video store (kids, ask your parents what those were). For a young film buff, it was a dream, but I also realized to provided me with special access and privilege shared only by a select few in the community — film developers (another endangered species), mail carriers and pharmacists.

We had knowledge of locals’ details that were not privy to the general public. We sometimes got a glimpse into rather lurid personal details that lurked just under the seemingly mundane surface.

In Better Living Through Chemistry, Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) had such access to the residents of his sleepy little Hamlet of a town. He’s the beleaguered pharmacist who wouldn’t dare divulge the little details of their lives as he is just too damn nice. This, despite the fact that he is the henpecked husband to fitness shrew Kara (played by Michelle Monaghan), father to reclusive, moody teen Ethan (Harrison Holzer), and heir to a dick-of-a-dad-law’s family pharmacy business.

Better Living Through Chemistry
Written & Directed by
Geoff Moore & David Posamentier
Michelle Monaghan, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
Release Date
14 March 2014
Rob’s Grade: C+

Despite the depressing domesticity, he still approaches each day with a smile and is beloved by his customers.

One fateful day, Doug makes a home delivery to a boozed-up trophy wife named Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde), who demonstrates there’s more to life to experience beyond the manicured lawns and and cobblestone streets of their suburbia. She reminds him that he has a world to experience right as his fingertips, one that he dispenses to rid the community of their many ailments on a daily basis, and one that can transport him to another reality altogether.

It’s an enticing setup, both to Doug and the audience, and with a constellation of fine actors (Ray Liotta! Jane Fonda!), it seems like the perfect pill to swallow. But, strangely, Chemistry plays it very “over the counter” when it could have come with a slew of deliciously tempting warning labels all over it.
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All the leads are stellar: Rockwell is always a delight and his gift of every-man-finding-his-wild-man routine is used to great effect here. Similarly, Wilde is alluring as the sultry seductress who lures him out.

There are also a number of sadly underused actors throughout, such as Ben Schwartz, (perhaps best known as Jean-Ralphio on Parks & Recreation) and Jenn Harris (of the indie hit Gayby).

It all transpires with a great wind-up, but delivered with a pat, underwhelming follow through that seems to merely dissolve like Tums in a glass of water.

There’s nothing really to fault in Chemistry: the direction by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier (who also serve as writers), bounces happily from one scene to the next. But perhaps it does so just a bit too quickly, as we never get a true feeling of danger or resolution to anything.

For a film dealing with the subject of illegally abusing narcotic stimulants, too often Chemistry gives us a placebo.

Review by Rob Rector, Film Critic