Pros: Early glimpses of future stars. Moderately entertaining. Basically well acted.
Cons: Cliched. Treatment program shown is based on one that was controversial.
Since I'm on a roll with these old, slightly obscure, but deliciously cheesy films from the 1980s, I thought I'd revisit a classic anti-drug film from 1985. Not My Kid stars George Segal and Stockard Channing and was directed by Michael Tuchner. I don't know why, but I just can't get enough of these over the top melodramas, most of which were made for TV and are now available on video or DVD. And if ever a film were an over the top 80s era melodrama, Not My Kid definitely meets the criteria.
The film starts with alternating scenes. First, we see a car full of out of control teens careening around on a busy highway, loud music blaring. Then the camera cuts to some sort of Narcotics Anonymous meeting, as teens admit to all the drugs they've done. We're back to the teens again, who seem to be getting crazier as the music gets louder and tires squeal. Then we see the meeting again, as the facilitator asks a group of teens the age they were the first time they got high and under what circumstances. This scene is clearly meant to shock viewers as a young Chad Allen (playing a twelve year old named Bobby) admits to first taking drugs in the fifth grade.
George Segal and Stockard Channing play Frank and Helen Bower, frustrated parents of a teenaged girl named Susan (Viveka Davis) who's fallen in with the wrong crowd. It would be bad enough if they were just your typical parents, but Frank Bower is also a medical doctor, which seems to mean he should be exempt from having a troubled teen. They find out about Susan's problem when she's involved in a car accident. Susan was one of the passengers in the out of control car viewers see in the first scene. Brought into the emergency room strapped to a stretcher, kicking and screaming, we know she's a mess. Suddenly, her straightlaced parents are also going to find out what a mess their pretty, perfect looking daughter is. And guess what? Susan's boyfriend Ricky is played by Tate Donovan, a guy who almost married Jennifer Anniston before Brad Pitt came on the scene.
The hospital scene sort of sets up what this film is really going to be like. Susan doesn't put up a convincing fight as she's transferred from the stretcher to an exam table and strapped down. Somehow, as Dr. Bower and his wife are escorted into the exam room where Susan is, she's changed into a hospital gown. Susan is appropriately apologetic and her parents are surprisingly calm. She says she feels awful and just wants to go home. Her parents don't believe the doctor when he tells them how loaded Susan was. Somehow, the doctor has managed to get Susan down from her high and somewhat normal before her parents arrive. Dr. Bower shoots Ricky a disgusted look as he escorts his other daughter, Kelly (Christa Denton) away.
Denial... it ain't just a river in Egypt...
Susan's parents are shocked... shocked... that their beautiful, privileged daughter could be involved in drugs and alcohol. Her mother's prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt and assumes that this was just a one time incident. Susan gives her dad the usual innocent act, telling him that she had run into a couple of guys on her way to the movies with her friends. She promises never to do it again and her dad tells her he won't punish her because she's too bright.
But it soon becomes painfully obvious that Susan has a real problem. Indeed, Frank Bower doesn't believe his daughter is as innocent as she claims to be. He starts to ransack her room, looking for evidence that Susan is a druggie. At first he finds nothing, but then Kelly tells him where Susan's hiding place is. When she's confronted, Susan gives her parents the party line... "They're not mine. I was holding it for someone else."
Pretty soon, Susan finds herself grounded. Frank takes a strong stand with her, thinking that will fix things. Susan shoots a testy remark at younger sister, Kelly (aka Possom), then slams her door. She swears she's done with drugs, but we soon see her sneaking around, looking for her buddies. They find her and tell her about a big party. Later, we see Susan smoking a joint with a little Angel Dust sprinkled in right there in her living room. Ricky stars harassing Kelly, trying to get her to try it. Susan kicks Ricky out of the house, then proceeds to beat the crap out of Kelly. And then, Susan's parents find out that Susan has a report card full of F's and is skipping school. At this point, it's clearly time for an intervention. A shrink tells the Bowers that they're too strict and they need to let go so she won't need to do drugs as a form of rebellion. But Frank sees through the shrink's BS.
After the police find Susan squinty eyed and keeping company with her druggie friend on his boat, Frank decides it's time to put her in a program. He calls Dr. Royce (Andrew Robinson), who runs a controversial drug treatment program. Pretty soon, Susan is confronted by other drug addicts. Pay attention to this scene... the future voice of Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright) is a fellow druggie who's there to help wrestle Susan into shape. You might also spot Kathleen Wilhoite, a very prolific character actress who's been around for years.
This movie is certainly entertaining to watch, especially for children of the 1980s. I'm pretty sure the program Susan ends up in is sort of based on the STRAIGHT/SAFE drug treatment programs that were very popular in the 80s. Those programs were later alleged to be cultish and abusive. Dr. Royce takes on a Dr. Phil-like persona with Frank and Helen, years before Dr. Phil was popular. It's kind of fun to watch some of the future stars in this film before they were big names in show business.
I also thought it was interesting to watch how Susan's parents dealt with the program. Clearly, Susan's father is invested, but her mother is not. I thought the writers did a good job showing Susan's conflicted parents. On the other hand, I sort of cringed when I watched the staff discussing the program participants and deciding whether or not they are well enough to go home. They were very pompous and all knowing.
Not My Kid is kind of cliched, but for an 80s era movie of the week type film, it's not too bad. Of course, since this film was made in the mid 1980s, it's only available on VHS and at a pretty penny. I'm not sure it's worth buying, but at this writing, it can be viewed for free online. Check Google video.
I would recommend this film for those who like to watch old made for TV movies with future stars in them. As for the treatment program, I'm not sure I could recommend that...