Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"I Can't Help You": YouTube's Ben Miller Delivers Emotional Alcoholism Short Film

"SUBSTANCE" (2013)
Genre: Drama
Length - 5:21
Company: VanityPeakFilms
Website: Official YouTube

Addiction is never an easy subject to tackle.  I've seen full length feature films that falter halfway through, or derail entirely into After School Special territory. 

So when I saw a short film dealing with this admittedly touchy subject, I had to take a look.  Coming from YouTube personality Ben Green (quadruple threat writer, director, editor and star), "Substance" is a surprisingly intimate take on what alcohol addiction really looks like.


Our protagonist, played by Ben Green (listed as "Sober Friend" in the credits), drags his drunk friend (Dakota Miller) home from a party -- a place where she without question should not have been.  Her drinking has spiraled out of control, leaving Ben Green's character there to pick up the pieces. 

Of course the drunk friend does not appreciate his interfering in her affairs -- she can live her life quite well on her own, thank you very much -- but ultimately allows him to pamper her, as it's clear she can't even walk on her own, much less change her life for the better.

This extremely short film exposes moments of great intimacy between the two friends -- upon my first watch, I assumed they were related.  The sober friend does all he can to help her, but is it enough?  Green summons tears on command and plays the long suffering friend to the hilt.  Miller acts drunk and flails around -- it's all her role calls for, but some of it felt a little forced to me. 

Either way, "Substance" manages to stir up emotions and ask a very big question: when is it time to stop allowing a friend to self-destruct?  When is a more direct and hard nosed approach necessary?

The ending isn't clear about what will ultimately happen to the drunk friend, which I felt was an appropriate conclusion to a mature, raw and honest look at addiction and how it affects those closest to us. 


Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The plot is very one note and the strength of the film rides entirely on the shoulders of the actors to pull off what might otherwise be dry dialogue.  While the film is short, it still seems like more action could have been drawn from the concept.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Green directs the film in a direct, in your face style.  It works.  The finale, with that long close up of Green's face as he makes a momentous phone call, was a perfect visual to complete the film.
Editing: 4 / 5.  What little action there is moves at a good pace, and every transition seems thought out and properly executed.  It's a professional show.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Nothing sticks out in my mind, but the score, comprised of tracks from and didn't detract from the experience.
Acting: 4.5 / 5.  This is where the film really shines.  Miller works wonders with every line, sounding authentic and concerned, tired and desperate.  His performance gives the film its emotion and lends a real edge to the message at hand.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5.

Don't forget to watch "Substance" on YouTube and give a shout out to Ben Green at his YouTube channel and on his official Facebook page!  

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!