What I thought would be a light-hearted comedy with 28 Days (2000) turned out to be a more serious look at an important issue. I landed on it because it stars Sandra Bullock. Call it what you will, but as I have said in reviews of her other work, I enjoy her movies. As such, choosing this one was simply a matter of me attempting to round out her catalog. Like many of her films, there are the funny moments, but there are also the parts that strike an emotional chord. This is usually the right recipe for a good piece of cinema, and that is what I came away with in this one.
The 28 Days here refers to the period of a court ordered stint in a substance abuse rehabilitation center for writer Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock). We start by explaining how she gets sent to such a facility. The short answer is that she is a mess. The night before her sister Lily (Elizabeth Perkins) gets married, Gwen is out partying (and all that entails) with her enabler boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West). When she awakens the next morning, or possibly afternoon, she realizes that she is running late for the ceremony. Catching a few taxis and a train, and boozing all the way, they finally make it to the church. In her drugged and inebriated state, she manages to nearly wreck the wedding, and entirely wreck the limousine intended for the newlyweds. Stumbling from the vehicle, she is taken into custody and receives her stint in rehab in lieu of a jail sentence. Like many addicts who have found themselves in a similar situation, she finds the rigidity of the structure pointless and that none of this is needed. She can quit whenever she wants, or so she tells herself. Hence, she does not take part in any of the activities and toughs it out until Jasper can smuggle her some Vicodin. He also sneaks her out during his visit, and she returns to the facility drunk. This is a problem for her counselor, Cornell Shaw (Steve Buscemi), who reminds her that if she is caught using that she will go to prison. When he confronts Gwen with this possibility, she wilts and it is the first time she admits that she might have a problem. Still, she does not want any help, and she tries throwing the Vicodin out the window. Sitting in her room alone proves too much and she attempts to retrieve the pills by climbing out the window. Her efforts result in a severely sprained ankle, and getting carried in by a new arrival, Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher Eddie Boone (Viggo Mortensen). The next day, Cornell seems intent on sending Gwen to jail, but is stayed by her begging him not to let her be incarcerated. This appears to be the turning point she needs to accept the assistance the program provides, which is driven home by the sign she often wears that says, “Confront me if . . . I don’t ask for help.” This is a definite beginning to the road to sobriety, but there is still a way to go. One hurdle to get over is her relationship with Lily, who is resistant to coming to the facility to help with therapy. There are also some issues with others in recovery with her. One of the more personal struggles is with her teenaged roommate Andrea Delaney (Azura Skye). One night after Andrea’s mother does not show up for visitation day, Gwen finds Andrea cutting herself. This proves to be a bonding moment for them because Andrea gets Gwen to promise not to tell anyone about the incident lest it cause her to be taken out of treatment. There is also Eddie. It is apparent that there is an attraction between the two, which complicates Gwen’s relationship with Jasper, who proposes during one of his visits. Yet, part of the program is not to fraternize with other patients, or to date for a couple years after leaving rehab. Still, their interactions are close enough to confuse Jasper during one of the times he drops in, triggering a physical altercation between them. Later on, Eddie is trying to get Gwen to open up about the kinds of things she had done that brought her here, and she shuts down. What it means is that she has yet to truly confront her problems. This is brought into sharp relief when she finds Andrea dead on their bathroom floor from a heroin overdose. In response, Gwen turns to her sister. They discuss that which has been a running theme throughout the film, and is the root of Gwen’s dysfunction: their mother (Elizabeth Ruscio). She had been an alcoholic and died from it when they were young. They had handled it differently, though they both admitted to neglecting the other in the wake of the tragedy. Though Gwen had been taking her recovery more seriously since Jasper’s proposal, the boost she gets from Lily helps her complete her final days. With that, it is back to the real world. It is not long before Jasper comes calling, and they decide to have dinner. Though he says that he is willing to change, it is evident that he wants her to get right back into her old way of life. She realizes that she wants no part of that only when, after leaving the restaurant, she is able to pick up a horse’s hoof, something she had been asked to do at the facility. The final scene is of her having a chance encounter with a fellow addict in a florist, Dutch Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk).
Clearly, 28 Days later is about battling addictions. This is something that I have covered in other reviews, and I was gratified to see at least slight mentions of the Christian roots of the sobriety process. “Process” is perhaps the best word for this, and it, too, jives with Faith. As with addicts when they first go in for treatment and believe they do not have a problem, there are many who doubt God can do any of what the Good Book or those who believe it say He can do. That is fine. Those who think such things are impossible are wrong, of course, but the suspicions are understandable. What people who are in rehabilitation need most is love. That is the ultimate healer, and what they most lack. Beyond parting seas or moving mountains, God is love. It is His greatest miracle, and the reason for why anything happens in the first place. These kinds of ideas are reinforced in rehabilitation, though from a less theological standpoint. This is okay, too, because love is enough. I write this blog in order to fill in that missing piece. For addicts, that is a large missing piece. It takes the entire movie for Gwen to realize that she does not need that “chemical help” to cope with life. It takes letting go and letting God, or in her case, being one with the horse. Either way, as is also uttered in the film, I say, “Yay, God!”
There are some real moments in 28 Days. Obviously, this comes mostly in the form of people at the facility wrestling with their inner demons. Beyond this, I appreciate the fact that it also shows how people fail even after “graduating,” for lack of a better term, from rehabilitation. It is not easy on your own. It is made easier when you let God and let God.