When Better Living Through Chemistry first started popping up on film news sites back in 2010, it was billed as a noirish thriller starring Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Garner and Judi Dench. It was described as the story of a small-town pharmacist who embarks on an affair with a prescription drug-addicted trophy wife and finds himself invigorated—until the two begin plotting to kill her husband. Somehow, four years later, it has become a quirky indie comedy starring Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde and Jane Fonda. The plot is still technically the same—though the murder is more of a side note than the crux of the film—but there is very little thrilling about it. Instead, it’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl story for people in their 40s. So rather than a free-spirited ingénue riding a bicycle, the woman who helps Rockwell’s henpecked pharmacist learn to live again is a pill-popping gold digger in a sports car. Think The Last Kiss meets Breaking Bad. There are some laughs to be found in Rockwell’s descent from obsequious bore to reckless horn dog, mixing cocktails of his own pharmaceuticals to fuel marathon sex sessions. But no amount of psychotropic drugs can alter what is ultimately a predictable plot played out with tired, sexist stereotypes. I still want to see the version where a grizzled Jeremy Renner plots a murder while snorting Percocet.
Critic’s Grade: C+
SEE IT: Better Living Through Chemistry opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.