New Documentary Releases: American Relapse (2019) - Reviewed

The War on Drugs has been one of the prevalent issues in American society since the Reagan administration over 30 years ago.  In that time, there have been several arguments thrown around from all sides on how to correctly combat this dangerous epidemic.  At its most basic roots are two opposing arguments: those who view it as a criminal problem vs. those who view it as a health problem.  The new documentary, American Relapse, takes an up close and personal look at how hard drugs has affected a small Florida community.  

American Relapse devotes a weekend to following Frankie and Allie, themselves both recovering addicts, who have devoted their lives to helping other addicts in their path to recovery.  Admittedly, I don't spend nearly as much time watching documentaries as I do narrative films.  When I do watch docs, I tend to lean more towards the big all-encompassing films that tackle subjects on a national or worldwide scale.  You know, the kinds with lots of fancy info-graphics and interviews with various experts from around the world.  This film is clearly not that kind of documentary.  It zeroes in on this small group of individuals over the course of a weekend in this little town, and its all the better for it.  The two guides, Frankie and Allie don't shy away from discussing their past drug use, which over the course of the film, proves just how qualified they are to help others, as well as showing how staying clean really is a constant struggle.

While we're learning more and more about Frankie and Allie, we're also getting introduced to several people in the community who are also dealing with drug addiction.   In their attempts to help these individuals, Frankie and Allie show how they're different from other outreach counselors whose priorities perhaps lean more towards the financial aspect of the issue rather the human one.  It's heartbreaking yet also not entirely unsurprising.  What is surprising to learn however is how some companies involved in the recovery business might actually go out of their way to hinder addiction recovery in order to make even bigger profits.  At this point I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised when I hear about the underprivileged being taken advantage of by some corrupt conglomerate, yet this one stings me harder than most.  I mean, the thought that people could actually prey upon the fragility of drug addiction in order to make money absolutely disgusts me.  

The ability of a documentary such as American Relapse to get such a strong emotional reaction out of me is a testament to its quality filmmaking.  Using vivid intimate cinematography, and personal storytelling, this film is able to effortlessly engage you in its message about drug addiction and the road to recovery.  By showing a larger focus on the physical people plagued with this illness, American Relapse is able to give a face to the issue at hand, which effectively forces you to reflect on your own personal biases regarding the epidemic.  Films like these are helping lead the charge in getting everyone to take part in solving its various social issues, and I honestly can't think of anything more important than that.

--Derek Miranda