The Daily Stream: Breathing Happy Is The Perfect Post-Holiday Recovery Film

Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Breathing Happy"

Where You Can Stream It: Fandor

The Pitch: There are a lot, and I mean a lot of films about people dealing with addiction. Some instances, like "Requiem for a Dream," border on exploitation, while others, like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," highlight the shift in drug culture from feeling free and flying high to becoming broken and completely under the spell of illicit substances. Recovery is often portrayed through Oscar-bait dramas with weepy supporting casts, and seldom told through the perspective of the person actually pursuing sobriety. Produced by Dave Lawson of Rustic Films, the folks that gave us the films "Resolution," "Spring," "The Endless," "Something in the Dirt," "She Dies Tomorrow," and plenty of other independent favorites, we now have Shane Brady's impressive directorial debut, "Breathing Happy." Written, directed, edited by, and starring Brady, "Breathing Happy" is a weird and wonderful exploration of addiction, grief, and recovery set on Christmas day, injected with magical realism that prevents this empathetic story from ever becoming so sentimental it turns into an episode of "Intervention."

Why it's essential viewing

Toward the beginning of "Breathing Happy," Dylan (Shane Brady) leaves a voicemail to his sister saying, "I'm at one year sober today. I dunno, technically I'm not gonna get it until another hour and 40 minutes, but even I can't f*** that up, right? I miss you guys. Merry Christmas." The film immediately showcases the uncomfortable honesty that comes with being the person known for disappointing the family. Dylan is sitting alone on the eve of his birthday, Christmas, and his first anniversary of sobriety. This is a big day, but it's bittersweet when he has to consider what it took to get to this point. Dylan has endured severe, unimaginable losses on his quest toward sobriety, the kind that can't be repaired even if he stays sober for 100 years.

Alone, surrounded by festive pressures, Dylan reminisces about the Christmases past, grieving those he's lost and trying (and failing) to unpack how he feels about the way his behavior while in the throes of addiction irreparably damaged his relationships with everyone he's ever loved. "Breathing Happy" is timed to align with the final moments of his first sober year, and the magical, existential dread that washes over him as the clock gets closer to midnight.

Haunted by visions of his past and potential and unfathomably depressed on Christmas Eve, "Breathing Happy" feels both like "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life," but updated for our current sensibilities. As much as the film is certainly worth a holiday watch, its impact feels greatest in the recovery period between Christmas and New Year's — the time vortex of a week that we're all currently trapped within.

The ghosts of ruined Christmases past

Despite knowing that Dylan has brought a lot of turmoil to his loved ones, it's easy to immediately be on his side and root for his success. Shane Brady plays Dylan with so much sincerity, it's hard not to view him as a vessel for the countless people in my life whom I've watched struggle through their pursuit of sobriety. The stakes feel insurmountable for Dylan, because being home, alone, in his festively decorated family home is like willingly opening Pandora's Box of Personal Christmas Demons. Through the use of magical visions, anxiety-triggered dreams, and the footage from his family's camcorder, Dylan comes face-to-face with all of his ghosts of ruined Christmases past.

But rather than deal with chain-rattling Jacob Marley, Dylan gets into arguments with talking doors (voiced by Aaron Moorhead and Sarah Bolger), heeding the advice of his yoga therapist (voiced by Justin Benson), and making difficult decisions like when his former dealer (Hugh Scott) offers him a gift bag either filled with drugs or healthy goodies. On paper, "Breathing Happy" sounds like a litany of other Christmas redemption stories, but the surrealist presentation makes the film truly special.

When people think of sobriety and recovery, they often view it as a linear path. Stop doing drugs. Move forward. All is forgiven ... but that's not how any of this works. Recovery is hard, messy, and moves in a path more in line with the "Jeremy Bearimy" timeline pattern from "The Good Place." And as such, "Breathing Happy" moves similarly — twisting, twirling, backpedaling, thrusting forward, and sometimes falling in on itself. In any other story, this journey would be a complicated mess that's impossible to follow, but for Brady's debut, it's perfection.

Make a necessary mess

Making a movie is hard, but getting people to see that movie without the support of million-dollar marketing campaigns in the current market of oversaturated "content" is almost impossible. If it wasn't because I'm an unapologetic fangirl for all things Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, a film like "Breathing Happy" would have completely flown under my radar. In a weird way, that makes Shane Brady's film even more exciting. Tape sharing has gone the way of the dodo, and streaming apps are feeding us recommendations through precise algorithms, making it much harder to stumble upon a gem like this.

While Benson & Moorhead are now directing Marvel projects like "Moon Knight" and the upcoming second season of "Loki," the two got their start proving that you don't need massive budgets to make a good movie — you just need a great story and the support of some of your friends to help you get it made. This film feels like an extension of that initial passion and is reason enough to believe Brady is a director that should be on everyone's radar.

"Breathing Happy" is a complicated movie that only works if everyone involved is willing to throw themselves into the necessary mess of a recovery tale. Fortunately, everyone does, especially Brady. This is a magical movie about problems that can't be magically solved, which is quite possibly the hardest pill to swallow in this sobriety story. But ultimately, this is a story about remembering that hope and catharsis can always be found and that past mistakes do not cancel out the moments of joy and happiness. Breathe in the happy, breathe out the pain.

Repeat as needed.