Although I sit in the cabinet,
I shall not stay for long.
My contents undeniably tempts
My owner with its song.
Its call is far too strong.
Though some can sip with a managed lip,
A few can’t get enough.
No need to think when an amber drink
Can smooth life when it’s rough.
One swig, and “That’s the stuff!”
I’ve been his friend for years on end;
He’s rarely missed a day.
This latest trick, I hope, won’t stick,
Or I may fade away.
I’m lonely since A.A.
MPAA rating: TV movie (should be PG)
Back in 1986, James Woods and James Garner starred in a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called Promise, a tale of an older brother (Garner) who must come to terms with caring for his schizophrenic sibling (Woods). While the acting is phenomenal and it remains one of the most celebrated TV movies ever with Emmys, Golden Globes, and a Peabody to its name, it fell short of greatness for me thanks to a downer of an ending. Three years later, Woods and Garner teamed up again in this other Hallmark Hall of Fame member titled My Name Is Bill W., and what was apparently intended as a reunion turned out to be even better than their original collaboration.
My Name Is Bill W. is the story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, particularly Bill Wilson (Woods), who begins as a happy husband with great business aspirations in the stock market. Over the years after World War I, he schmoozes investors and stock opportunities to work his way up the ladder of success, all with drink in hand. The habit of a few drinks to loosen lips and pocketbooks quickly becomes a lifestyle for him, much to the dismay of his faithful wife (JoBeth Williams), and he soon starts to spiral into alcoholism. It’s difficult to watch a man willingly destroy his life, but at least we have the promise of a revelation, one which unites Wilson and fellow drunk Bob Smith (Garner) into a dynamic duo dedicated to supporting alcoholics everywhere in need of hope.
Both main actors are in top form, with JoBeth Williams being an extra surprising standout as Wilson’s long-suffering wife, and other strong roles go to Gary Sinise and George Coe. With the inebriated mistakes and desperation he pulls off so convincingly, it’s no wonder that Woods won an Emmy, just as he did for Promise three years earlier, though it’s sad that Garner didn’t win for either.
Above all, the film warns against the dangers of overdrinking, not by demonizing alcohol itself but reminding us that some people simply lack the self-control of others, whether it be “a disease” as one doctor states in the film or a psychological addiction. It’s clear from Bill Wilson’s life that oftentimes a desperate man can only pick himself up after hitting his lowest point, but his story serves as a caution for anyone who refuses to listen to the love and advice of their friends and family. What might have been a tragedy thankfully turned out to be an inspiration because, for Bill Wilson, a man whose life was ruled by alcohol both in its excess and its absence, success didn’t simply involve dragging himself out of the gutter, but helping others to do the same.
Best line: (Bill) “It’s like any journey, Fred. It begins with the first step.”
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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