Rodrigo (Del Zamora) is a used car salesman who talks a great game, especially at the AA meetings he attends as a motivational speaker, despite his ongoing, and well-hidden, appreciation and abuse of alcohol. When ex-girlfriend April (Ashley Ledbetter) moves back to town, with her teenage son Sam (Andrew Shea) in tow, she re-connects with Rodrigo, though the reasons seem to be a mystery to no one but maybe Rodrigo, whose alcoholic ways are only getting worse. At the same time, Sam struggles with fitting in at school, falling in with a bad crowd.
Thursday’s Speaker tackles alcoholism and family dysfunction with a surprisingly cheerful tone. Which is not to say it is mocking or disrespectful, but the film doesn’t fall off into bleakness like so many other dramas. Rodrigo’s downward spiral is assured, though the film paints a hopeful picture that the man will overcome his own lies, and things never get too dark.
The downside of this tone, however, is that the film seldom feels like there are any real dramatic stakes. Sure, things could go horribly awry, but you never feel like they will. Thus, you don’t necessarily emotionally engage on a deeper level.
Still, there’s something to be said for entertaining and humorous, and Del Zamora does a great job as our inebriated raconteur. He’s not really a horrible person, despite so many indications to the contrary; when he starts to open up and really feel for someone other than himself, that’s when the alcohol becomes that much more destructive. Suddenly he can’t keep up the act, and it requires more effort, and alcohol, to even make him think he should.
It’s odd to say it, but Thursday’s Speaker is a pleasant film about a functioning alcoholic. It stays away from dramatic extremes, never dropping too low or raising up too high. This even-keeled approach adds a sense of reality to the film, as it’s more accurate to most daily dramas than what we normally see in films. It’s refreshing, but staying in that middle realm also risks the audience engagement remaining surface.
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