Vera Farmiga gives an amazing performance as Irene in this nail-you-to-the-ground gritty drama from director Debra Granik. It’s hard to move away from the screen when Irene is faced with making her next decision to move the story forward. As an actress she’s clearly losing herself in the role and it’s a fantastic performance. You almost feel bad for her when she gets the nose ring at the tattoo/piercing parlor and it’s clearly a fake costume prop. Irene wouldn’t let that go.
It all begins in the greyness of upstate New York where Irene finds herself efficiently killing time until the next hit of coke by running groceries (that she herself can’t even afford) across the price scanner at her cashier day job. Like many alcoholics are fully functioning, she’s a fully functioning cokehead, raising two little boys and holding down some semblance of a marriage and normal life. But it’s the normal life that appears to be getting to her, and so she finds herself stealing away moments at home with her children to snort a line of coke.
What’s even more interesting of a plot twist is when Irene makes the seemingly good decision of checking herself into a rehab center after an all too Hollywood like encounter with a patriotic and caring drug dealer. Yeah. And while that moment in the script had me having my doubts about the film, it’s once Irene hits rehab on her own that things really begin to happen. Making progress, she begins to fall for a male nurse named Bob who seems to be able to help her stay off the junk. As scriptwriters would have it though, it doesn’t take long before they both begin to bring each other down.
While Irene is finally able to cope with her life now that she has Bob in it, Bob, on the other hand, is not able to cope anymore. After five years of sobriety he falls off the wagon during one of their rendezvous’s in the city. It’s clear that Bob is not completely happy with Irene, as she is happy with him, and so their downward spiral begins. Her love for him provides her the ability to trust him, and that trust is quickly betrayed. At this point in the film, Farmiga has built up a character so rich and complex in her simplicity for life, that it’s hard to leave her story behind as a viewer.
Granik at times almost seems to want to trick us into thinking Irene’s life (and the children’s even) would be better served by a mother with coke available for daily use, but that’s obviously just not so, and in reality it’s that we’ve begun to care so much for Irene, that we almost are willing to sacrifice all we know is right just to see this film end happy. That’s why Granik’s ending is perfect. The final moments in the film give rise to a point in Irene’s life that she may have never been able to reach at the beginning of the story, but finally she can. Like the title pre-supposes, Irene throughout the film will be stripped down to the bone, and able to finally see what, if anything, there is in her life that she cares about. While she may be the only drug-addled mother in America who finds hope in her children instead of resentment and annoyance, she’s an inspiration to be a better mother for anyone who faces the same trajectory in their life.