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'Sweet Nothing' Is a Tale of Descent Into Addict's Abyss

September 06, 1996|JACK MATHEWS | FOR THE TIMES

The diary entries read by the crack addict Angel (Michael Imperioli) in Gary Winick's "Sweet Nothing" were reportedly inspired by a set of anonymous diaries found in a Bronx apartment, and there's nothing in the character's words to dispute that. The descriptions of Angel's love affair with the drug seem absolutely authentic.

What's missing in the story are the pages of the man's life before he greedily sucks in his first offering of crack. "I felt like I found an old friend," Angel reads from his diary, and the two are inseparable from then on.

The question never satisfactorily answered is what he needs with this particular friend. He is married to a woman he loves, he has two children, including the daughter born that day. He's bright, he has a decent-paying job on Wall Street, and he and wife Monika (Mira Sorvino) are looking ahead. From flashbacks, we learn that his childhood in an alcoholic home was not a rave, but now, on a whim and an opportunity on a boys' night out, he leaps into the void and risks everything?

It seems an act of deliberate self-destruction for Angel, and as he begins narrating the film--lying flat on his back in an alley, with blood oozing from his head--it also seems a roaring success. But without some sense of the character flaw that makes him such an eager victim, we're stuck for the running time of the movie with someone who seems to deserve exactly what he's getting.

"Sweet Nothing," despite the visceral detail, is a straightforward portrait of a junkie in descent, from the first high to the last skid. The diary entries take us through the stages and phases of addiction--from cocky self-confidence (he can quit any time he wants) to denial (he's not using it as much as everyone thinks) to sweaty paranoia (why are people doing this to him?).

For three years, after he's changed jobs from white-collar worker to drug dealer, he's able to control his addiction by smoking up his profits. Need more? Just sell more. But when his buddy and supplier Raymond cuts him off, the panic of all junkies sets in.

The compelling thing about the diary entries is what they reveal about Angel's internal conflict, his awareness of what he's doing to his family. And the story doesn't begin to match the drama of his words until Monika, played so compellingly by Sorvino you may hope the film will abandon Angel and shift to her point of view, is rallied to action. But we go where Angel goes, deeper and deeper into the abyss.

The one thing about drug addiction, in life and movies, is that it is inevitably resolved, with either tragedy or hope. First-time director Winick does a good job of keeping the outcome in doubt until the final moments, but where Angel is concerned, it's hard to care.


* MPAA rating: R, for pervasive drug use, strong language, some violence and sexuality. Times guidelines: Despite portrait of a junkie in descent, drug use may seem glamorous to young teens.

'Sweet Nothing'

Michael Imperioli: Angel

Mira Sorvino: Monika

Paul Calderon: Raymond

A Concrete Films production, released by Warner Bros. Directed by Gary Winick. Producers Rick Bowman, Winick. Screenplay Lee Drysdale. Cinematography Makoto Watanabe. Editor Niels Mueller. Music Steven M. Stern. Production design Amy Tapper. Costumes Franne Lee. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

* Exclusively at Goldwyn Pavilion Cinemas, Westside Pavilion, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-0202.

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