In this sketchy inspirational drama, Dyan Cannon — who wrote and directed the picture — plays Stephanie Lewis, a beautiful but insecure woman who has spent her entire life struggling to please everyone, even if that means she’s treated like a doormat. At the same time, she’s full of suppressed rage, which she numbs by popping pills, smoking dope, and eating huge quantities of sweets — though some in the audience may wonder how she’s able to binge as she does and keep such a stunning figure. Driven to the edge by her addictions, she has a nervous breakdown and is placed by her parents in a drug rehabilitation clinic. There, the rehab counselor (John Heard) leads the patients in a combination of primal-scream therapy and get-control-of-your-own-life boosterism.
Cannon has always been an underrated actress, and here she proves she can play breakdown scenes with harrowing force. You certainly wouldn’t see acting this raw in a made-for-TV movie. Yet in just about every other way, The End of Innocence barely rises to the level of mediocre television. Cannon presents Stephanie’s story as a series of glib snippets, and the character as written is less a person than a walking case file: She’s nothing but her neuroses. What’s most bothersome about the movie is its thinly disguised narcissism. Cannon makes Stephanie a soulful victim and turns everyone else — Stephanie’s parents, her boyfriend, the other patients — into freaks and vipers. Then, when the character emerges from the clinic magically cured of both her drug dependency and the lifelong hangups that fueled it, all her fellow patients suddenly get better too. This is a California-therapy movie, all right: Beneath its occasionally effective portrait of the torments of addiction lies an antiseptic hymn to self-improvement.