There’s no clear path to overcoming addiction, depression, or self-harm. There just isn’t. A person doesn’t become magically healed through rehab and come out a fixed up, pieced together version of their previous self — only now fearless, ambitious, and unfailing. To Write Love On Her Arms knows this and reflects it. This film wasn’t “Hollywood”‘d up to sell to an obvious teenage crowd for a quick buck. It’s a reflection of real lives, harsh struggles, and illnesses out of their control without being cheap.
It’s cinematic with artistic scenes of make-believe; monsters, flowers, imagination both good and bad are inserted into scenes mostly at the beginning of the film, to illustrate both a child-like sense of innocence and what the mind creates when that innocence is lost. I was half-expecting these scenes to become “too animated” and lose a sense of reality simply to be quirky just for the sake of quirkiness. But I appreciated it because it had purpose. No, it wasn’t flawlessly inserted. It stood out, was obvious, and at times cartoon-ish. But again, it wasn’t random. There was meaning and symbolism behind each animated scene.
The musical score was absolutely lovely. I loved when Renee (Kat Dennings) put on her headphones and was teleported into an amped up world of music that was in no way a reflection of reality; it was how she felt. Walking through a high school hallway can be intimidating but with the perfect song suddenly everyone can start dancing, rapping lyrics behind you, and transform the school into an open dance studio (luckily, not in a choreographed High School Musical sort of way). Music for Renee gave her confidence, it gave her distractions from her addiction and self harming and an escape — such as bringing a rave party inside her head with flashing lights, bearded DJs, and pounding music that left her breathless from dancing to the beat. It was also consoling for her soul when she chose a softer and simpler song while in rehab with lyrics to help her manage her way through.
But also, traumatic things do occur in the film. I felt physically uncomfortable watching a few scenes of mental and physical abuse Renee endured. But similar things, things exactly like what she experienced, happen in the real world everyday. Just like Renee, it happens and no one finds out. Because of her shame, Renee kept secrets from her friends — costing her their friendship, her family, and herself, resulting in her addiction to drugs and self-harming to relieve the stress and emotional pain she couldn’t control otherwise. Anyone who has been through similar situations can understand Renee.
The dark thoughts don’t just go away because you receive help. But people think it does. Renee’s friends and family believed she was okay after spending six months in rehab. They didn’t see the slow decay creeping into her daily life. It’s because we want to believe, so badly, that once someone does receive help they are magically cured. To Write Love On Her Arms focuses on the reality that this just isn’t true for the majority of people. It would be wonderful if it was, but it’s not.
With some help, real help from someone who knows the ins and outs of what you’re going through and the added aid from close friends and family, recovering from addiction can become a possibility. Renee gets this chance through a stranger named David McKenna (Rupert Friend). He’s been where she has been, only his vice wasn’t just cocaine, and understands her habits and emotions better than her friends of twelve years despite knowing her for a couple of days. He stands by her because he’s been where she is and understands the importance of having that person, that sponsor, who will go to the ends of the earth to bring recovery to someone who needs it. But he also shows how easy it is to fall after going so far. It’s too easily and he shows how difficult it is to get through each day because even when recovered, addiction is still a part of your everyday life. It’s never wiped away.
Maybe this is just me but I found Jaime (Chad Michael Murray) to be a tad creepy after creating the To Write Love On Her Arms foundation. During the charity event Jaime speaks about Renee, her struggles with addiction and how he has started this foundation for her. But, she never really wanted it. She never wanted him to post her story and gain recognition and turn her into a sort-of celebrity while battling her addiction in rehab. Even though he meant to do and accomplish this on her behalf as well as for her, the fact that he continued to use her name at the event seemed strange because he knew she wasn’t fond of being the spokesperson for it. I even thought he sounded a tad cult-like, for a moment, because of how much he pushed the whole concept and creation on Renee. It’s not as if he could just shut everything down because she wasn’t behind it, but it sounded like he didn’t really care whether she approved or not.
Also important to note is that not all people suffering from addiction are bad. In Renee’s life, two people definitely were and took advantage of her when she was unable to defend herself, but Mackey (Corbin Bleu), her friend who was addicted to cocaine and seemed to be in no hurry to become sober, had nothing evil about him. Despite his own addiction, he never pressured Renee into starting drugs again. He mentioned it but once she said “no” he left it alone. In a way, it’s because of him that Renee didn’t fall off and slip into her old ways. The truth is, people suffering from addictions are painted as bad and unfortunate people, but that isn’t a solid reflection of reality. It’s too simple, too black and white.
At the end of the film, the founder of the To Write Love On Her Arms movement Jaime Tworkowski speaks about the organization, it’s significance, and gives a little insight on people suffering from depression, addiction, and other illnesses. Again, this brought the importance of the film back into focus. It also gave insight into the real Renee Yohe, how she is and what she has been doing since the movie has ended — as well as her sponsor, David McKenna, who died in a car accident in late 2012.
Overall, I was impressed with the film. I enjoyed it. The art style, the musical arrangement, the acting and realism kept me watching from start to end. The fact that it wasn’t all wrapped up nicely with a bow after Renee returned sober from rehab was a definite plus for me. That wouldn’t have represented the real Renee Yohe’s life but it also wouldn’t have represented the truth behind people who are rehabilitated. I suppose ending it on a quick happy note without showing the chance of relapsing would have caused it to become cheesy. Luckily, that didn’t happen. It’s a fantastic film with an important message and if you get a chance you should definitely see it.
You can watch To Write Love On Her Arms on Amazon Instant Video now.