It’s not surprising that Tommy Swerdlow’s helming debut about three heroin addicts in desperate search of a fix reeks with authenticity. The film’s director/co-writer was an addict himself for nearly two decades, suffering open-heart surgery and a near-fatal bleeding ulcer as a result. Known for his screenplays for such family-oriented comedies as Cool Runnings and Snow Dogs, Swerdlow has now turned his experiences into A Thousand Junkies, a film geared to a decidedly different demographic. It recently made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Swerdlow also assumes a lead role as Tommy, who in the opening scene sits in a car along with his friends and fellow users TJ (TJ Bowen) and Blake (Blake Heron) waiting for their drug dealer. They pass the time by reminiscing about the best bathrooms in Los Angeles in which to shoot up and other such conversational tidbits. But the trio become increasingly alarmed as the minutes tick by and the dealer fails to show up.
Doesn’t produce much of a high.
So off they go, driving all over town to get the fix they need. Not surprisingly, their search leads to embarrassing and sometimes comical situations involving various lowlifes, family members, and even actor Bill Pullman, who shows up in an amusing cameo appearance as himself. When Tommy asks him for money, Pullman refuses, and just to make sure the point comes across, declares, “It’s the hard no.”
By the time Tommy tries to con his young daughter into stealing money from her mother, it’s become apparent that he and his fellow addicts’ desperation has slipped in tone from comical to pathetic. And, when Blake finally suggests that they rob a Russian dealer at gunpoint, somewhat suspenseful.
The problem is that, as anyone who has spent time with junkies knows, they’re not a terribly interesting lot. To its credit, the film’s depiction of its characters always feels truthful. But whether they’re frantically tearing up a car in search of stray drugs or desperately looking through a pile of CDs to find ones to sell, their travails are not compelling enough to sustain the viewer’s interest. A Thousand Junkies — the title stems from one of the characters saying he’s seen that many try to quit and fail — runs a mere 75 minutes, but like many a drug, it distorts time and feels much longer.
Still, the film has some memorably pungent moments, and the musical score, featuring such vintage recordings as “Misty Blue,” provides witty accompaniment. It also has a perfect ending, which, depending on your point of view, could be interpreted as either sad or happy.
Production: THI Productions
Cast: Tommy Swerdlow, TJ Bowen, Blake Heron, Bill Pullman, Steven Weber, Dinarte Freitas, David Darmstetter, Dennice Cisneros, Jerry Stahl, Karen Swerdlow, Lucinda Jenny, Patricia Branco
Director: Tommy Swerdlow
Screenwriters: Tommy Swerdlow, TJ Bowen
Producers: Lee Buckley, John de Menil, Tommy Serdlow, Preston Clay Reed, Christine Melton
Executive producers: Rick Rosenthal, Bert Kern, Nick Morton, Danny Petrasek, Daren Hicks, Simon Tams
Director of photography: John de Menil
Production designer: Rene Navarrette
Editors: Anisha Acharya, Jimmy Long, Nate Park
Costume designer: Morgan DeGroff
Composer: Benji Lyasaght
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)