Coming to Terms

By Kait Gallagher | Drama
A young woman comes to terms with being an alcoholic.

Ellie seems to be a typical young woman living in Manhattan, working at her office job and socializing in the city’s bars and at her friends’ parties.

But Ellie has started to blackout after drinking every night, waking up to troubling evidence of poor decisions that she doesn’t remember making. And soon she starts to realize that her “few drinks” may mean something else entirely.

Writer-director Kait Gallagher’s intimate, compassionate drama tackles the subject of alcoholism, as well as the growing awareness of an addiction — and grappling with all the shame and difficulty that such a realization can mean.

The writing and craftsmanship take viewers inside Ellie’s perspective, meticulous building the blocks of her growing awareness as she experiences them. The subject of addiction and alcoholism can easily be turned into melodrama, but there are no screaming meltdowns or drastic accidents here, and the dramatic register is fairly muted. Instead, Ellie’s journey as a character is primarily internal, one that’s more about admitting the truth to one’s self instead of being blindsided by it through tragedy. This shift feels more honest, relatable and true to life, and the writing is able to capture the quiet, troubling devastation within Ellie as she realizes the scope of her troubles, while still showing her compassion and dignity as a character.

True to the intimate, clear-eyed style of storytelling, there’s an unobtrusive yet resonant naturalism to the filmmaking, a style that isn’t exactly documentary-like but still has the immediacy and intimacy it implies, along with a softer, darker, almost more somber palette that reflects the shadowy emotional terrain of the storytelling. The filmmaking also does justice to lead actor Kea Trevett’s rich, vulnerable performance, which is able to communicate the tricky double act of trying to hide the truth from one’s self, even as that truth is coming to the surface.

When Ellie finally faces her problem, it is both intensely freeing and isolating, especially since Ellie lives in a world where alcohol — and even its over-consumption — is so socially acceptable, even expected. But by finally accepting where she is at — and putting that truth into action — Ellie earns a powerful, resonant character arc and a moving ending to her story, which is actually a beginning.

“Coming to Terms” could have easily been a single-note social drama, but its intimate, psychological focus and its subtle, precise performances give the film a complexity and richness that is compelling, especially about a subject that is still surprisingly taboo. It’s not taboo because of its perversity or deviancy, but because drinking alcohol is so common, and often a rite of passage in many cultures. If anyone struggles with drinking in a world that celebrates and admires a certain libertine attitude, it’s often with a sense of shame and denial, often suffering in silence and fearing judgment or social ostracism. “Coming to Terms” is about breaking through those layers — both within self and in society — and living in one’s truth.

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