The increasing use of amphetamines, like Ritalin or Adderall, to treat ADHD (amongst other things) is becoming a real cause for concern in certain parts of the world, in particularly in America. Take Your Pills is a new Netflix Original documentary, from director Alison Klayman, which looks at the impact that the growing reliance on these drugs is having all across the US.
I have to admit I was fairly ignorant about the extent to which Ritalin and Adderall were prescribed, and I certainly wasn’t aware that the perception of these drugs was morphing over time. Personally, I would associate Ritalin with something that kids with ADHD take to help them focus, but according to Take Your Pills, it seems that I am way off the mark.
The most striking thing about this documentary is that it highlights a growing problem that I didn’t even know existed. I really like it when a documentary can either open my eyes to something new or challenge me to think in a different way. I can’t decide whether I’m not aware of this problem because I’m too old and my generation just missed out on the rise of these drugs. Maybe it’s because this isn’t as much of an issue over here in the UK and so it’s not an issue I’d have been exposed to. Whatever the reason for my apparent ignorance, it made me feel guilty that there is seemingly this epidemic of legalized amphetamine use, and I had no idea about it.
There’s no doubting that this is an absolutely fascinating subject for a documentary, and I must confess that before I watched it I didn’t realize just how close Adderall (and similar drugs) was to methamphetamine. I know I’m repeating myself, but I was genuinely staggered by how prevalent these drugs is becoming. It seems that the way in which these drugs are viewed and consumed is morphing and evolving over time to be something more akin to the Limitless pill, from the fairly average Bradley Cooper movie, and even more average TV spin-off – a comparison that the documentary makes quite well. Seemingly these pills are no longer just used to treat a condition, and instead they’re being used by people in all walks of life to help them work harder and achieve more.
The subject matter was really interesting to me. Well, interesting and concerning. Certainly, from the interviews in Take Your Pills, it sounds like 90% of kids in American colleges regularly take Adderall to help them compete with their peers and to achieve everything that they want. I have absolutely no feel for how accurate this actually is, but it really got to me. The idea that young people now feel so pressured by modern society to achieve that they end up taking prescription drugs to make it through college, which if movies have taught me anything is meant to be a time to have a little bit of fun.
As much as I was gripped by the subject I found the way that it was presented was difficult to get along with. The film uses a lot of talking heads, with an almost entirely silent interviewer who we only actually hear a handful of times. Take Your Pills seems to talk to a really wide range of people from college kids, to academics in the field and even former NFL players. The real problem I had was that it all felt too unfocused – there are probably four or five small stories that we’re introduced to that would have made interesting documentaries in their own right. Instead, the film pinballs around from person to person and subject to subject, which given the topic may have actually been intentional. I think that as interesting as the material is I didn’t really get a sense of a strong central narrative running through the film, which thinking back is something that all of my favorite documentaries have had in common.
There were times where it felt like I was essentially watching an extended version of This American Life (incidentally it’s a great podcast if you’ve never listened to it). I think that this would have worked really well as a multi-part podcast series or even a serialized documentary over the course of several hours rather than the 87-minute run time. Nothing about the film felt inherently cinematic and there were points when I found the graphics and animations being used were actually distracting me from the what I was being told.
I really did enjoy aspects of Take Your Pills, as I’ve said several times throughout the review I think that this is a really interesting topic. However, the way that the film is put together just didn’t really work for me – everything felt unfocused and disjointed with no real evolution to the story. The message that I really took away was that this is a potentially significant issue, and that’s about it. I think that maybe it needed for the filmmaker to really put themselves out there and deliver a strong narrative and message. It’s definitely worth watching, but ultimately I was left disappointed. This felt like it had the potential to be such a rich and interesting piece, but it couldn’t really make up its mind about what it wanted to be and instead bounced between several ideas.