Based on the true story of Bill W. (James Woods), a successful stock broker whose life falls apart after the stock crash of the 20’s and how he comes to grips with his alcoholism. Along with a fellow alcoholic, Dr. Bob Smith, (James Garner) he forms a support group that would eventually become Alcoholics Anonymous.
Bill came home from World War I a hero. He then conquered Wall Street. He married the love of his life, Lois (JoBeth Williams). Bill appeared to have it all. Then came the Depression and a dizzying downward spiral into a state of perpetual drunkenness. He then discovered a new god, a new lover, a new idol; the bottle.
Finally after meeting Dr. Bob, who was also leading a life of alcohol dependence, Bill’s life changed. By sharing experiences, by mutual support without judgment, the two men learned to maintain sobriety. Woods plays Bill W. with remarkable restraint, not denigrating into the hystrionics of Jack Lemmon in “The Lost Weekend”; as brilliant and well-meaning as that film is. Nor does this movie fall into high camp, as did “Reefer Madness” in the late Thirties.
Instead, in “My Name Is Bill W.”, we see a man driven to the depths of despair. A man beaten is beaten into the dust. To quote Cecil B. DeMille, “the dust from which prophets and holy men are formed. . .”
Yet, this film is not preachy. It tells a story. A true story, all the more frightening, because it is true.
Watch this movie. Listen to its message of hope, of truth, of honesty, openness, and willingness. Hear the story of the damned, who somehow, someway, found salvation.
Director: Daniel Petrie
Year of Release: 1989
Character to watch: James Woods as Bill Wilson.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?