I think one of the things that excites me most about the human condition is how we can find beauty and truth in unlikely places.
Ralph Waite's new film looks like a documentary about winos on skid row but feels like a morality play about Everyman. It is the kind of release that appears on the cultural scene to show us how beautiful and profound personal filmmaking can be when it is done by an individual who cares equally about the craft and conscience. In this sensitive and touching story, we are brought face-to-face with questions regarding the nature of friendship, change, love, freedom, and human dignity.
Sam (Donald Moffat) is a middle-aged man who has turned his life around by sheer will power. He has a clean apartment in downtown Los Angeles and is determined to stay sober. Sam is a former alcoholic. However, when an old drinking companion (Hal Williams) asks him to check him into a treatment center "on the nickel" (a nickname for Los Angeles' skid row), Sam realizes how much he misses his old existence.
Most of all he wants to see C.G. (Ralph Waite), a wino who revels in his freedom and the satisfaction of camaraderie among equals. Before Sam catches up with his buddy, he visits some of his old haunts the mission hall where the drunks sit through a sermon before getting a free meal and the flophouse where hundreds of vagabonds sleep. There a wino condemns Sam, pointing out that when he was a boozer at least he was somebody now he's empty.
Sam and his wino friends decide to retrieve C.G.'s ashes from the city crematory. The scene is at once bizarre and hilarious. They give them to Rose along with a small tree to carry in her cart. The festive ceremony which ends the film brings to mind the finale of Zorba the Greek a ritual of signing and dancing to signify the triumph of the spirit over the forces of dehumanization and destruction. Don't miss this movie: it reveals in a zigzag way the subtle, sneaky, and important reasons why life is worth living.