“Better Living” at Living Room Theaters
By Skip Sheffield
“Better Living Through Chemistry” is a rather racy offering for FAU’s Living Room Theaters. It will be interesting to see how this modern sex farce goes over with an older audience.
Actually “Better Living” is a bit more subversive than just a sex farce. If you were to take it seriously you might think the best thing to spice up a stale marriage is a wild extramarital fling, powered with drugs and alcohol followed by a plot to murder an annoying mate.
But you can’t take this movie, written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier, too seriously because it is played as a bawdy comedy with a wink and a nod.
Sam Rockwell is Douglas Varney, a meek and mild pharmacist in the small town of Woodbury in Anywhere, USA (but suspiciously like Southern California).
Doug works for his father-in-law Walter Bishop (Ken Howard). Walter is a loutish, domineering blowhard who thinks he knows everything.
His daughter Kara (Michelle Monaghan) also has a domineering streak, which has kept wimpy Doug in a submissive state. Doug and Kara’s 12-year-old son Ethan (Harrison Holzer) is out of control; insolent and uncommunicative at home and disruptive in middle school.
When Doug’s delivery man Noah (Ben Schwartz) fails to deliver a prescription on time, Doug decides to deliver it himself.
Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde) answers the door clad in a silky slip with a drink in one hand and cigarette in the other. The bill is $180 but Elizabeth has only $20, and her rich husband is out of town.
It begins with a lingering kiss on the lips. Mrs. Roberts is one seductive babe and Doug is vulnerable.
This is a sex farce, not a morality play. Elizabeth is fond of mind-altering, sex-enhancing drugs, and Doug has the ingredients at the ready. As Doug becomes more reckless, he takes up smoking and paradoxically decides to challenge his fitness-freak wife to a bicycle race.
When by chance Doug meets Elizabeth’s husband Jack (Ray Liotta) it dawns on him maybe Jack isn’t the unreasonable ogre Elizabeth painted him.
Then DEA Agent Andrew Carp (Norbert Leo Butz) pays a visit to the pharmacy. Doug’s situation becomes uncomfortably serious.
Sam Rockwell is a versatile actor who can play both milquetoast and wild man in the same role, which serves him well here. Olivia Wilde has the right combination of raw sex appeal and covert menace, while Michelle Monaghan’s good girl learns a satisfying life lesson.
Stick around for the end and enjoy a famous person cameo that reassures everything is all in good fun.