Director:   Elaine McMillion Sheldon,

Watched at:  Hot Docs 2018,

Rating:  3/5.  


It’s impossible to fault this documentary for its sensitive approach to telling the stories of four young men struggling to escape the shackles of heroin addiction. Set in director Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s home state of West Virginia, the movie concentrates its focus on a rehabilitation house which provides shelter, food, therapy, and brotherhood. It’s an admirable mission to be sure, but one that often results in failure. If nothing else, this film resolutely shows us that addiction is a disease without a cure. The best someone could hope for is a permanent remission.

Recovery Boys is patient, quiet, and unsensational. It strikes just the right tone. But it is also unremarkable. Although the four men’s stories offer their own mildly surprising twists and turns, the film is so uninterested in stylistic flourishes neither it nor the men make much of a lasting impression. Sheldon’s respect for the rules of non-intrusive documentary filmmaking has the unintended effect of lumping her subjects in with every other heartbreaking story of the opioid crisis that we’ve read about in magazines, heard on NPR, and seen on Frontline.

Sheldon’s conventional treatment however did make it easier for Netflix to produce the film, which means that it was featured heavily on the home page during the initial rollout, and will enjoy significant viewership levels. This will perhaps be the film’s most lasting legacy. People will see it, know they are not alone, and know that the road to sobriety is rugged and long.