Recovery Boys

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Recovery Boys Movie Poster Image
Intense, honest, and inspiring docu about opioid addiction.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 89 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Confirms seriousness of U.S. opioid addiction by focusing on four young men for whom audiences will root. Positive views of intervention personnel and possibilities, given limits of such techniques. Finds some hope, but tempered with realistic view of challenges faced.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shows the courage, perseverance, and self-control it takes to recover. At the same time, treats with compassion those who cannot overcome their addictions. As the docu is set in a rural, gender-segregated facility in West Virginia, addicts and counselors are male and white.

Violence

References to child molestation and rape.

Sex
Language

Swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass."

Consumerism

Jacob's Ladder, long-term substance abuse rehab center.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Focused entirely on drugs and addiction. Characters frequently smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Recovery Boys is a documentary set in West Virginia that deals exclusively with the current, ongoing opioid epidemic. Filmmaker Elaine McMillion-Sheldon, who lives in the state, and her team spend 18 months tracking four young, white men and their struggle to recover. Centered in and around Jacob's Ladder, a long-term resident rehab facility led by Dr. Kevin Blankenship, the film intimately profiles the "boys," who are all in their 20s. The first half of the film centers on their initial six months at Jacob's Ladder, which functions as a working farm. The second half follows the four as they try to negotiate the world that challenged them so profoundly before their attempts at sobriety. Opioid abuse (prescription drugs and heroin), while never shown on-screen, impacts everyone, all the time. Profanity is heard -- multiple uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "ass." Meant for mature audiences only, the film should inspire meaningful family discussions about an issue of epidemic proportions.

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What's the story?

Jeff, Rush, Adam, and Ryan: They're only known by their first names in RECOVERY BOYS. Each of them is beginning a six-month stint at Jacob's Ladder, a brand-new, innovative rehab facility that is designed to offer hope to the hopeless of rural West Virginia. In a setting where opioid addiction is wreaking havoc on an entire population, Dr. Kevin Blankenship, having lived through the challenge of his son's addiction, is cautiously optimistic. In answer to the sparsity of recovery facilities in the area, Jacob's Ladder will provide counseling, a secure place, and a farm to keep its residents busy and engaged in life. Jeff, the first resident, is struggling to regain custody of his two young daughters. This will be the 10th program for Rush, whose life has been saved by medics 14 times. Adam, a wholesome-looking boy, is desperate to stop hurting those he loves and save himself. Ryan is the only man who arrives directly from the street; he must withdraw from the drugs before he can even begin to recover. The first six months are filled with moments of progress and positivity, as well as moments of despair and self-hatred. Each reaches a milestone when they "graduate" into the real world to begin life again. The filmmakers keep the young men close for another year. What transpires is unpredictable -- at times grim, at others, heartening.

Is it any good?

What courage and trust it must have taken for the four compelling young men at the center of this story to appear on film at such a harrowing time in their lives; their trust was not misplaced. Elaine McMillion-Sheldon treats each of them with dignity, respect, and compassion. She offers no explanations and makes no judgments. Not on "the boys." Not on Dr. Kevin Blankenship and his staff. What's more, McMillion-Sheldon seems to capture their unique spirits, as well as the demons that accompany each young man's journey. The camera is at the right place at the right time. The composing and the editing are executed with a sure hand and a gift for intimacy.

Recovery Boys doesn't make any promises. It doesn't offer hope where there is little. Still, there are moments that call for cheering, moments that call for kudos to Blankenship, et al. It's movie time well spent. Audiences can't help but be deeply affected, even heartened, by this film. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how documentaries shed light on important topics in today's world. Were you aware of the opioid epidemic in the United States? Did Recovery Boys change any perceptions you had before? Why does focusing on individuals rather than a concept help illuminate such an issue?  

  • Documentaries are intended to inform, entertain, inspire, or persuade. Which category(ies) describes Recovery Boys? Why?

  • Were you surprised by the outcomes? What were your expectations for each young man: Jeff, Rush, Adam, and Ryan? How did you feel about how each fared by the movie's end?

  • What character strengths and skills (e.g., compassion, communication) did the staff of Jacob's Ladder rely on? What character strengths (e.g., perseverance, courage) did the "boys" need to help their recovery? What character strengths do you think most influenced the level of success each young man had? 

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