Pills and Pain at the Tribeca Film Festival 2013: 'Oxyana' & 'Bottled Up'

A gritty documentary and fluffy comedy bring a similarly hardheaded sensibility to the invisible epidemic of pain pill addiction.


Director: Sean Dunne
Cast: Shadow, James, Juggalo Jason
Rated: NR
Studio: Cadillac Hash LLC
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-04-19 (Tribeca Film Festival)

Bottled Up

Director: Enid Zentelis
Cast: Melissa Leo. Marin Ireland, Josh Hamilton, Jamie Harrold
Rated: NR
Studio: Olympus Pictures
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-04-20 (Tribeca Film Festival)

The miasma of what one interviewee terms “Appalachian fatalism” wafts through Sean Dunne’s Oxyana. A nervy portrait of the effects of economic colonialism and over-prescription of pain meds on the small West Virginia town of Oceana, the documentary -- screening at this year's Tribeca Film Festival shows these effects relentlessly, especially in the deadened eyes and sagging backs of interview subjects. The epidemic has washed through isolated communities all over America. Years after giant pharmaceutical companies started pushing incredibly addictive pain pills like Oxycontin, doctors eager for a co-pay and underemployed people looking for an easy high make for a hellish combination.

Today Oceana seems filled with Oxycontin addicts. One person after another remembers how things were not so long ago, when everybody just drank and smoked weed on occasion. Now, we learn, mining jobs are increasingly scarce and citizens share increasingly familiar stories of gothic family tragedies. There’s the zoned-out dealer whose father killed his mother and brother, the young women who tell the familiar tales of stealing and hooking to get the money for their fixes, the mother trying to get her son into rehab, and another mother who swears up and down she’s not a junkie, even as her eyes lose focus and speech slurs.

Dunne's film makes clear the parallels between Oceana and the urban communities shattered by crack in the 1980s. The faces here are white and the drugs made by domestic conglomerates and not grown overseas, and the "war on drugs" seems not to be applied so literally here as elsewhere. We don't get the sense of an all-out police assault on the users here, as we've seen in drug-ravaged black communities around the country.

Oxyana doesn’t draw an explicit comparison between poor white Appalachian pill-takers and poor black crack addicts, and instead maintains a tight bead on just this town and this handful of interviewees. But it's hard not to note the patterns, the economic abandonment and decimation of social norms in both situations. At various times, Dunne interrupts the flow of interviewees' misery with bleakly beautiful footage of the town itself, the cheap, collapsing homes and bleak businesses backgrounded by lushly forested mountains. In a different film, this would come across as rural ruin porn. But Dunne’s portrait-like approach is more evocative than elegiac. This has always been a beautiful but hard and unforgiving place, the camera seems to say; once people are trapped by an opiate fog, they find it difficult to escape.

While the tone of Enid Zentelis’ bantamweight romantic comedy Bottled Up could not be more unlike that of Dunne’s stark work, it has a similar kind of misery buried beneath its gentle exterior. Melissa Leo plays Fay, a single mother in a cozy river valley burg in upstate New York who seems to have ever so slightly given up on life. Fay has a live-in daughter, Sylvie (Marin Ireland), who supposedly runs a daycare during the week but is really just looking for her next fix of pain pills for a back problem likely healed months earlier. Although trying to run an awesomely hybridized small business (mail supplies, doughnuts, and body piercing), Fay’s real job is watching out for her daughter. Fay refuses to admit Sylvie is an addict and so conspires to hide her problems from the world and even helps her obtain fraudulent prescriptions.

Dropped into this wrenchingly codependent relationship is Becket (the criminally under-seen Josh Hamilton), a wide-eyed naïf of a granola activist who studies water pollution and is looking for a room to rent. Although the much younger Becket clearly has eyes for Fay, she insistently pushes a misbegotten scheme to hook him up with the fuzzy-headed Sylvie, whose lust is less for a man and more for her next pill.

Bottled Up is a small-scale comedy, with storylines determinedly mild and characters rudimentary. While her film's laughs are not terribly well developed, Zentelis does have a good eye for character, in particular the awkward charm of Fay and Becket’s long-fuse romance. Hamilton’s easy and good-natured glow plays nicely off Leo’s flinty insecurities; a fully explored relationship between the two of them would have made for an excellent film in and of itself. But Zentelis wastes time with twee observations of the small town and Becket’s interest in water pollution, which leads to a narrative dead end.

Bottled UP's most honest and appealing aspect may be Ireland’s sharply honed portrayal of Sylvie, whose explosions of temper and confused malaise make for a painfully accurate take on the imprecise and maniacally self-obsessed chaos of the pain pill addict’s life. What this memorable character, with her toxic codependent entrapment of Fay, is doing in this milquetoast comedy is, however, never resolved.





Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.


'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.


2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.


'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.


Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.


Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.


Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration in Her Texas Roots on 'World on the Ground'

By turning to her roots in central Texas for inspiration on World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz has crafted some of her strongest songs yet.


Hinds' 'The Prettiest Curse' Is One of Victory

On The Prettiest Curse, Hinds create messy pop music that captures the vibrancy of youth without being childish.


12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.