movie review my name is bill w

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Movie Review: My Name is Bill W.

I didn’t see the movie “My Name is Bill W.” until I was more than 9 years sober.

I had meant to watch this movie for a long time, but just never got around to it.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I borrowed the DVD from a fellow sober alcoholic and watched the movie with my wife.

Movie Details:

  • Year:  1989
  • Director:  Daniel Petrie
  • Stars:  James Woods, JoBeth Williams, James Garner


My Name is Bill W. chronicles the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous via Bill W., Lois (Bill’s wife) and Dr. Bob.  It starts with Bill W. (James Woods) during his drinking days as a high-flying stockbroker in New York during the roaring 1920′s.  He has success, but drinks more and more.  When he’s wiped out financially, his drinking spirals totally out-of-control.

Despite many attempts to get sober on his own, Bill just can’t stop drinking until he actually talks with another alcoholic.  He has an epiphany which helps him stay sober simply by talking with a fellow drunk.  Once Bill understands the power of alcoholics talking with other alcoholics, he sets out to meet with another alcoholic while on a business trip in Akron.  There he meets Dr. Bob who is another seemingly hopeless alcoholic.

Anyway, anyone in AA learns the story.  After all it’s set out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Worth Watching?

Yes.  I really enjoyed the movie.  And it’s not just because I’m a recovering alcoholic that I enjoyed this movie.  My wife, who is not an alcoholic really enjoyed the movie as well.

The acting is superb by all 3 stars.  I’m not a big James Woods fan, but he really does a bang up job playing Bill W.  He’s able to give viewers the sense of Bill’s bouts of grandiosity followed by bouts of shame and rock bottom self-esteem.  When Bill gets sober for the first time, Woods really gives off the aura of having had an epiphany.

JoBeth Williams plays Lois very well … she’s sympathetic without being pathetic.  I haven’t read much about Lois, but when watching the movie you just shake your head wondering how she has the strength to stick with Bill through the many years of his drinking.  Williams portrays Lois in a sympathetic light, but she still comes across as a strong woman who stuck by Bill through thick and thin.

James Garner, who I always enjoy watching on screen, creates what is probably an accurate folksy, small town intellectual doctor who oozes empathy for people yet simply has a severe drinking problem.  Dr. Bob in the AA literature certainly comes across as a having been a very likable fellow, and it’s this characteristic that Garner pulls off so well.


It’s clearly a TV movie.  It lacks all the big budget elements, but the compelling story, and the fact it’s based on a true story, compensates for it’s “made-for-TV” quality.  Even though I knew the story more or less, the movie was well paced where I didn’t become bored.  The director (Daneil Petrie) sticks to the basics and keeps you watching.

Will non-alcoholics enjoy it?

Yes, I believe so.  My wife, a non-alcoholic, enjoyed it.  Although she’s interested in AA because of me, so she’s not entirely unconnected to AA.

Even if viewers aren’t really interested in recovery, in my view the story and directing is tight enough that people will enjoy learning about AA, even though they aren’t otherwise interested in AA.  If anything, non-alcoholics will come to a greater understanding about how AA works and AA will loses some of its mystery to non-AA members.

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