The topic of addiction is certainly no stranger to Hollywood films and TV shows. It has been dramatized and documented in countless big budget productions, some more successfully than others. But, as a new article on The Nation correctly points out, there are often inaccuracies when it comes to portraying the experiences and treatment regimens behind a dependency.
The latest project that has earned criticism for its addiction portrayals is the Netflix film Hillbilly Elegy. Based on a bestselling book, the movie has received mixed reviews despite its inclusion of several notable A-listers (director Ron Howard, actresses Amy Adams and Glenn Close). On the dependency front, it does confront the country’s opioid crisis, but there are elements that, to those in our industry, feel a bit far fetched. An example would be the way that Elegy portrays an overdose; both in the after effects and in the way it is treated once the main character is admitted to the ER.
Now we all know that Hollywood likes to take liberties for entertainment value, but those liberties can also deceive audiences. Quitting an addiction for a “happy ending” isn’t quite how real life stories tend to work out. The details of treatment are often conveniently left out as well, including recognizing that certain medications are needed (like Suboxone, for example) to ween people off intense opioid dependencies.
Article writer Zachary Siegel points out that addiction storylines in TV shows are often recycled and generic, with a tendency to get resolved within a 30 minute timeframe.
“Watching hours upon hours of films and shows that feature addicted characters to write this piece, I came to realize a drab and dreary sameness running across the genre,” Siegel wrote in his piece. “Audiences are subjected to the same recycled stories and character arcs, flattened of complexity, full of one-size-fits-all approaches for what is maybe the most complex and confounding human condition—an insatiable desire for the very thing that’s destroying your life. Instead, what we most often see play out is moral turpitude followed by an exercise in character-building.”
Examples of current shows that appear to get this experience wrong are HBO’s Euphoria and the streaming series, Ben Is Back. There were, however, a handful of projects that Siegel believes are better in their portrayals of addiction. Those would include the 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy and the more recent Permanent Midnight. So while we do admire the effort in bringing the addiction topic to TVs and movie theaters, we also want to make sure that it is being portrayed respectfully and accurately.