Given its ninety minute length and having Jane Fonda perform the comically explicit narration, it might be easy to dismiss–or just describe–Better Living Through Chemistry as a genial amusement. Certainly lead Sam Rockwell can do this role in his sleep. He's a small town pharmacist in a bad marriage (Michelle Monaghan is great as the controlling wife); his father-in-law runs his life, his teenage son is starting the awkward years, no one takes him seriously.
Except unhappily married trophy wife Olivia Wilde.
What actually makes Chemistry so different is how writers-directors Moore and Posamentier seem to have no idea what they're doing. There are all sorts of tangents the film goes on, all sorts of great little moments between Rockwell and Monaghan then later Rockwell and Harrison Holzer (as his son). It's all over the place, with the affair between Rockwell and Wilde ostensibly the foundation of the narrative.
Only it's not. It's a device to go into a series of rapid comic set pieces–as Rockwell tumbles out of control, only everything turns out to be regimented. All of these set pieces go well, thanks to Rockwell and his abilities in both physical comedy and just lovably obnoxious. There's no heavy lifting for the actors in Chemistry, except maybe Holzer, but strong, assured performances in a well-written, if unambitious picture, isn't a bad thing at all.
Nice supporting work from Norbert Leo Butz and Ken Howard rounds things off.
Chemistry is controlled and it's calculated and it pays off well.
Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, Heidi Adams; produced by Joe Neurauter and Felipe Marino; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Starring Sam Rockwell (Doug Varney), Olivia Wilde (Elizabeth Roberts), Michelle Monaghan (Kara Varney), Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Andrew Carp), Ben Schwartz (Noah), Ken Howard (Walter Bishop), Jenn Harris (Janet), Peter Jacobson (Dr. Roth), Harrison Holzer (Ethan Varney), Ray Liotta (Jack Roberts) and Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda).