32 Pills is not the kind of documentary I typically gravitate to, but it kept appearing at the top of the HBO documentary list, perhaps because its title begins with a number which ‘alphabetically’ precedes A in some lists.
I started watching it when I was sick, but it was so sad and depressing I had to stop. When I regrouped my inner wherewithal a few days later, I finished watching.
The documentary is about the painful lives of Ruth and Hope Litoff, two sisters who grew up with privilege in manhattan in the 1980s and 90s. Both sisters are beautiful, intelligent, artistic, educated and well off, but manage to fall down the rabbit holes of mental illness and substance abuse respectively. After a lifetime of depression, emotional volatility and countless suicide attempts, Ruth kills herself at the age of 42.
32 Pills is the saga of surviving sister Hope trying to come to terms not just with her sister’s suicide but with the ghosts of their fraught relationship and painful family history.
More than once the documentary crosses the line from ‘documentation’ to exhibitionism. I struggled to see how so much public bandaid-ripping could in any way be healing to this poor woman, whose first drink in 16 years (double vodka on the rocks) is filmed via selfie cam. In another scene her beleaguered husband is following her around their beautiful apartment, camera in hand, while she frantically throws back drinks.
The quality of this documentary is not great. The pacing is weird and I disliked the endless montages of creepy, scribbly drawings from Ruth’s journals (montages, in general, get on my nerves in documentaries). In terms of execution I’d give this docu a weak 4 on a 1-10 scale; in terms of human interest I’d give it a 6 to 7. Unfortunately this is a common theme in the documentary world- interesting subject, poor execution.
I’m not sure I can recommend this documentary unless you happen to have some kind of personal connection to losing a loved one through suicide (I hope you don’t), or an interest in documentaries about drug addiction and mental illness. Just be forewarned it’s incredibly sad.