According to Charles Bukowski, drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. Had Bukowski or his contemporaries been blessed with a Hollywood mansion and million-dollar expense account, their memoirs might have looked something like “Crazy Eyes,” an unflinching look at the restless sort-of love story between a Los Angeles alcoholic and the woman he drinks with. This isn’t the first time Adam Sherman has spun extreme personal experience into fiction, though Strand should find more takers for this bender than it did with his hippie-commune bacchanal “Happiness Runs.”

Whereas Sherman’s first feature suffered from its heavy cinema-as-therapy agenda, “Crazy Eyes” doesn’t seek to blame anyone for the self-destructive behavior of its shaggy protag (Lukas Haas). The clues are there, should anyone care to analyze the source of his soul’s turmoil, though the unrest has less to do with bad parenting (Ray Wise and Valerie Mahaffey play his overwhelmed folks) than his own failure as a husband and father.

The film begins with the legal tag that would normally appear at the end, disclaiming any resemblance to real persons, then oppositionally announces how raw and honest it intends to be, with the line: “In reality, every bit of this happened just like you’re about to see it.” Zach, the independently wealthy divorced playboy played by Haas, embodies Sherman’s own experience, while the character of Crazy Eyes (Madeline Zima) was fashioned after his co-writer and drinking partner, Rachel Hardisty. Zach’s next closest confidant, bartender Dan Drake (a right-on use of Jake Busey), evidently represents Sherman’s friend and additional contributor Dave Reeves.

These three make a weird sort of family in the loneliest place on earth — not Los Angeles per se, but Zach’s alienating state of opulence, which enables him to rent company for the evening by buying drinks and tipping well, but leaves him with no connections when he wakes up hung over the next morning. “You don’t even know what it’s like to struggle,” Crazy Eyes slurs after weeks of Zach trying to drink, spend or force his way into her pants.

She’s just one of the many women whose number Zach keeps in his phone, but she’s different from the others in that she doesn’t put out when he calls. Zach is consumed by what he can’t have, giving her the sobriquet either on account of the excessive mascara she wears or, more likely, the feral energy he sees in her stare — a stark contrast with the glazed, soul-dead look in his own. While Zima is undeniably fetching, his nickname never really fits, and it doesn’t take a psychic to realize that what Zach describes as love is really the thrill of the hunt.

Still, these two non-lovers have real chemistry, and it’s hard not to be intoxicated by the strange cocktail of watching them together, even as the story appears to be going nowhere. The genre has conditioned auds to root for onscreen couples to consummate their courtships, even in cases as counter-romantic as this, when the first date ends with one party drunkenly trying to overpower the other.

With its semi-lucid narrative drive and weird emotional swings, the film’s blood-alcohol level never appears to dip below the legal limit. For some reason, Sherman feels he has nothing to lose by letting it all hang out, and the honesty burns going down. You can’t write zingers like, “Even Jesus drank wine and spent time with a hooker he didn’t have sex with,” without suffering that cynical worldview a little bit as well.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Sherman and his co-writers share Zach’s misogyny. One might say the narrator-hero sees the world through crazy eyes himself, and the women in his life — his cheating ex-wife (Moran Atias) and gold-digger Autumn (Tania Raymonde), both “users” in their own way — probably aren’t as bad as he paints them. Sherman’s job is to be true to his own experience, and the take-no-prisoners result serves as a litmus test for those who watch.

D.p. Sharon Meir captures but doesn’t necessarily glamorize the L.A. high life, shooting on handheld 35mm to bring out the grit and shadows. Likewise, Bobby Johnston’s score and Doug Bernheim’s song selections are less the soundtrack of one never-ending party than the elegiac strains of a slow-motion funeral, allowed to begin all over the next day.

Crazy Eyes

  • Production: A Strand Releasing release and presentation. Produced by Hagai Shaham. Directed by Adam Sherman. Screenplay, Sherman, Rachel Hardisty, Dave Reeves.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Sharon Meir; editor, Sam Bauer; music, Bobby Johnston; music supervisor, Doug Bernheim; production designer/art director, Celine Diano; set decorator, Karen Ipock; costume designer, Erica Nicotra; sound, Michael Weinstein; stunt coordinator, Patrick J. Statham; line producer, Joel Sadilek; assistant director, Craig M. Borden; casting, Meg Morman, Sunny Boling. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 11, 2012. Running time: 95 MIN.
  • With: With: Lukas Haas, Madeline Zima, Jake Busey, Tania Raymonde, Blake Garrett Rosenthal, Ray Wise, Valerie Mahaffey, Moran Atias, Ned Bellamy.