Picks and Pans Review: I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can

updated 04/12/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/12/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Movies have shown the perils of the hard stuff—from booze to drugs. Now Valium, America's most widely prescribed tranquilizer, gets big-screen treatment. Based on the best-selling 1979 autobiography of CBS documentary producer Barbara Gordon, it depicts Gordon's addiction to the drug. Played with nerve-shattering effectiveness by Jill Clayburgh, Gordon is a workaholic with disabling anxieties who can't function without massive daily doses of Valium. She pins pills inside her clothes, stashes them in tissue boxes, and, in emergencies, cadges them from friends who always seem amply supplied. The turning point comes when Gordon is berated for her habit by the subject of one of her documentaries, a dying cancer patient done to an acid-tongued turn by Geraldine Page. With the not-too-helpful support of her brutal lover, Nicol Williamson, who has problems of his own, Clayburgh quits her shrink of 10 years and goes cold turkey. That leads to convulsions, hallucinations and commitment to a mental institution, where she eventually recovers with the help of a therapist, sharply etched by film newcomer Dianne Wiest. All this is harrowing; stage and TV soap director Jack Hofsiss, in his film debut, and screenwriter David Rabe (Clayburgh's husband) fill the screen with raw emotional fireworks. Before you flush your own Valium, though, remember not all medical experts agree that Gordon's experience is relevant to most patients. As a crusade, the film is far from conclusive. As a study of one woman's journey through hell, it's a chilling success. (R)

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