A mouthful of a title that sounds like a Jacqueline Suzann novel, “When Love Is Not Enough” is slightly better than spending the evening hanging around with an abusive drunk, but not much. Adapted from William G. Borchert’s book by the author and Camille Thomasson, the movie has slightly more bite than recent “Hallmark Hall of Fame” productions, but spends so much time with the long-suffering Mrs. Wilson that her persistence begins to feel as misguidedly stubborn as it does inspirational. Despite earnest performances by Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper, the whole exercise left me wanting a stiff drink.
Opening in 1917, the movie finds Ryder’s young Lois being wooed by and marrying Bill Wilson (Pepper) shortly before he goes off to fight in World War I. He returns and takes a job on the stock exchange, but his bouts of drinking grow increasingly intense and destructive — a weakness that Lois blames on herself, in part, for her inability to bear him a child.
Shades of “The Lost Weekend,” Bill’s alcoholism eventually incapacitates him, at a time when there was no real attempt at treatment other than throwing chronic drunks into the sanitarium. Finally (and I do mean … finally), Bill is introduced to a support group that leads him to co-found Alcoholics Anonymous, while Lois creates Al-Anon as a corresponding resource for spouses.
Along the way, even Lois’ mother (Rosemary Dunsmore) questions the wisdom of her stand-by-your-man loyalty, as Bill breaks one “I’m done with the booze” pledge after another. The movie’s most interesting element, actually, is the rarely seen period it chronicles, carrying through Prohibition and the stock-market crash into the Depression.
Ultimately, though, the history behind AA isn’t as fascinating as it needs to be to animate this sort of endeavor, leaving little to do but admire the central performances. Pepper enjoys the showier role, and he’s fine in it, experiencing cringe-worthy delirium tremens somewhere between Ray Milland in “Weekend” and Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas.”
As for Ryder, she effectively spans the movie’s decades from youth to middle age, but is somewhat handcuffed by Lois’ situation. Although the character’s patience is rewarded, an audience choosing to stick with “When Love Is Not Enough” won’t be quite so fortunate.