Addicts Can Learn New Lessons From An Old Movie: Stuart Saves His Family

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial speculated that Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken may be unopposed by former senator Norm Coleman or any other serious contender in the 2014 election.  If so, this follows a recent GOP tradition of putting its worst foot forward, sending candidates into Senate races where they step into all sorts of “gotcha” questions and lose what should have been an easy Republican pick-up.

One of many examples is Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin and his wacky comment about female biology reacting differently if the woman was “legitimately” raped.  That unforced-error in 2012 allowed the un-popular Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill to handily win re-election.

On the other hand, one advantage to a seriously unopposed Franken candidacy would be that we are free to review and glean the lessons from a movie Franken starred in long before he got involved in politics.  If a serious challenge arises to Franken’s re-election, please disregard anything positive I have to say about Al Franken or this movie.

The movie is a real under-noticed charmer.  It is 1995’s Stuart Saves His Family, one of several movies inspired by characters from the TV comedy show Saturday Night Live.  This movie grossed less than $1 million, so the chances of a sequel are remote at best.  But the DVD can still be bought on Amazon or Ebay, or rented at Netflix.

A caring nurturer, but not a licensed therapist

The Stuart Smalley character, played by Al Franken, holds himself out as a “caring nurturer, but not a licensed therapist” holding therapy sessions on his cable TV show and in person for people who, like himself, have all sorts of problems, mostly emotional.  The effeminate, pastel-wearing Stuart Smalley encourages discussions of feelings, interjecting worn-out, twelve-step expressions to guide the conversation and resolution.

“Listen to me, I’m should’ing all over myself,” he says after whining to a friend about his family situation.  “I need to just let go and let God,” he says at another point in the movie, realizing he cannot improve every bad situation with himself and his family.

It may be sadistic, but a repeated chuckle of this movie comes from the situation in which Stuart Smalley, being such an openly-vulnerable person, interacts with characters who have no time or inclination for discussing weaknesses, vulnerabilities or in fact any feelings at all.  Smalley repeatedly gets smacked-down from his station manager at his public-access TV show, a customer at a restaurant, his parents, even the neighbor of his deceased aunt, where he was sent by his family to negotiate a better deal on an easement.  Confronted with this honest, sincere, admittedly vulnerable person, all of these people coldly walk all over him, getting the best of him and leaving him miserable and seeking the nearest twelve-step program to recover.

Rarely, Smalley will have enough of the abuse, viciously shout back, and then calm down and offer “an amends” to the confused victim.

Al Franken’s ever-so-slightly crossed eyes are a crack-up, as are the characters with their various problems.  In the span of the movie, the viewer is introduced to all sorts of maladies that need group treatment, from overeaters to rage-aholics, compulsive gamblers to sex-addicts.  At one point in the movie, Smalley’s father tells him that he is addicted to 12-step programs.  And he is probably right.

Smalley eventually does save his family, encouraging them to go to recovery programs for their various issues.  It might seem silly and trite, but the film respects the problems of the characters enough to take them seriously.

And this is how the movie becomes helpful to those who watch the movie and may have problems that need addressing.  There are whole groups of Americans with problems that are not quite criminal in and of themselves, but the problems lead to depression and unhappiness.  These people carry on their lives as if they have no problems, yet they repeatedly turn to alcohol or drugs and never realize that they will never be able to satisfy their body’s cravings.  An arrest is usually the alcohol or drug addict’s first introduction to the idea that they might have a problem.

In my law practice I have worked with alcoholics and drug addicts, many of whom initially appeared to be hopelessly addicted.  I encourage them to go to Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, even getting a sponsor, and oftentimes they clean themselves up.

My pitch always starts with persuading the addict that they in fact have a problem with alcohol or drugs, and that this problem is not a character flaw but rather a biological problem.  Everyone knows that diabetes is a biological problem, and are diabetics ashamed of their diabetes?  Diabetics, just like alcoholics or drug addicts, need help and they need to openly address their biological problems.

The first step is the most important one.  From that point onward, if they want to recover, they will.  Stuart Saves His Family is helpful by introducing the viewer to recovery groups, twelve-step programs, associating with sponsors, and unashamedly talking about battles with addiction with others, all of which are important steps to recovery.  Even friends or family members of struggling alcohol or drug addicts can learn from the movie the importance of moral support in an on-going struggle.  After all, an addict must always be on their guard against relapse.

It is not only an entertaining movie, but Stuart Saves His Family is helpful to anyone who has addiction issues, or who is friends with or related to someone who is.  Well done, Al Franken.

But like I said, all bets are off if Senator Franken has a serious Republican challenger for re-election.  I like his movie, not his politics.


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