I walked by Union Square Bar. I was going to go in. Then I saw myself – my reflection in the window – and I thought, “I wonder who that bum is?”
It’s always been said that film is at its heart a visual medium. So it’s always best to show rather than tell. It’s so easy for a writer to be bogged down in exposition. Instead of allowing us to discover things about the subject matter being discussed or the characters the writer just quickly creates an excuse for someone to tell us. This is where I find Days of Wine and Roses to falter the most, but not to the point of disrepute.
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) and Kirsten (Lee Remick) fall in love and get married. However, in their marriage there is a third participant, alcohol. Joe and Kirsten become alcoholics and the film follows the two of them as they allow for alcohol to destroy their lives.
It’s not unknown that I’m a massive fan of Jack Lemmon. He has the ability to make even the most regular of men come off as the loveliest man of all time. His niceness shifts into humour so quickly that you never can tell where Lemmon starts and the character ends. Here however as Joe Clay Lemmon has the difficult task of playing a completely unlikeable character. At first you see him in a professional sense doing some questionable things, but you quickly write it off as a guy suffering for the job. Eventually you come to realise that there’s a lot more to his horribleness since he tends to use his job as the excuse as to why he’s a bad person, but in truth it’s himself that makes it even worse. This is all amplified by his drinking.
The film progresses, as any addiction based film, where you see Joe and Kirsten sink deeper and deeper into the bottle only to wonder if they’ve actually hit rock bottom and while the answer to that question is obvious with the film you definitely keep asking it until the very end.
There’re many of these films around – one that I’d especially like to mention is Requiem for a Dream – where the film is really an exercise in watching these people tear themselves apart thanks to this addiction. Lemmon and Remick are brilliant in that sense. They tear these characters down to their lowest point.
My problem with the movie is with Jim (Jack Klugman). Jim is the man who approaches Joe at his lowest point and introduces him to AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. My problem isn’t that Joe goes into AA, but rather that Jim becomes a prominent character and rather than showing me Joe’s rehabilitation we just have a series of monologues with Lemmon and Klugman just selling me the merits of AA which basically degrades the movie in my eyes from a great film tackling the issue of alcoholism and becomes a PSA for AA that you’re going to show high school students.