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Film Review: ‘Coming Clean’ Personalizes the Opioid Epidemic

Courtesy of Interloper Films
Courtesy of Interloper Films

Over the last seven months, United States citizens have battled the Coronavirus pandemic. Over this period of time, updates have been readily available in the news and on television. There is also an epidemic in America that has been put on the back burner but is still raging on: the opioid epidemic. 

Coming Clean thoroughly examines opioid addiction by detailing the progression of abuse, personal stories, and interviews with experts and political leaders. Instead of simply listening to accounts from those that are addicted to the drug, you also hear from a variety of family members that share their perspective on how their life has changed at the hands of a pill or injection.

Director Ondi Timoner has taken on the massive task of directing this important movie. Luckily for Timoner, she succeeds. This should be no surprise, as the director has previously won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for documentaries Dig! and We Live in Public. Four other award-winning films and multiple music videos top off her impressive resume. Timoner’s unique directorial style is once again felt in this documentary, and it leaves viewers with a lasting impression and a desire to help those who have suffered from opioids.

One of the things the film does that is extremely successful is attaching a face to the issue. The documentary follows multiple people that have been subject to opioid addiction and tells their unique stories. Hearing one’s hardships at the hands of drugs connects viewers to the issue and makes it seem more urgent. Hearing young children detail how their mother has had her life ruined by a drug is even more hard-hitting.

A heartfelt segment of the documentary shows a family grieving the loss of a family member. They explain how their teenage son had fallen victim to a drug that is recklessly prescribed in the U.S.: Adderall. Adderall is not typically viewed as dangerous, like heroin and Oxycontin are, but is an opioid that can lead to abuse. Highlighting this drug as part of the epidemic shed light on the medication dependency America has in place for any and all ailments, regardless of age or severity. Interviewees describe how easy it is to get a prescription for whatever prescription you may crave. They also mention that the amount given at one time is typically enough for multiple people, not just one.

The movie also shines light on aspects of the opioid crisis that have not yet been considered in depth. Timoner interviews experts that discuss how early childhood trauma leads to individuals being 3,100 times more likely to succumb to addiction later in life. Following this discussion, some addicts are asked if they have experienced childhood abuse in any form, and the results are striking. In crafting a documentary that targets every possible facet of the problem, Timoner outlines a way for us to better understand the matter at hand and make improved efforts at solving it.

Courtesy of Interloper Films

One of the sadder sections of the film arise when the fact is presented that 90% of addicts do not receive help. This is not always because they don’t want help, or have given up, but because it is not accessible to all who need it. Colorado state senator Brittany Pettersen details her own mother’s battle with opioid addiction and how she was denied assistance, as well as her journey using her political power to improve aid for addicts.

The visuals that accompany voiceovers from a variety of speakers are both striking and memorable. Whether its showing a map of the United States sprinkled with opioid abuse cases, or screening pictures of victims before they were introduced to the drug, they leave a lasting effect on all who observe them.

Despite targeting a vital concern, the film does feel long at times. While it is only 102 minutes long, it feels monotonous with the points it is making. These arguments are all of the utmost importance; however presenting them in even more creative ways may have left a more lasting impact. 

Coming Clean is one of the most important films of 2020 because it will shed light on an issue that is very prevalent, yet still overlooked. Unless you know someone who has succumbed to opioid addiction, or lost his or her life to the drug, it is easy to not concern yourself with the matter. This documentary opens everyone’s eyes to the subject and leaves viewers with the realization that this problem will not be solved without everyone’s help. Now more than ever, U.S. citizens need to unite to solve a myriad of problems the country faces, and Ondi Timoner makes a strong case for opioid addiction being one of those.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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