My first ever Documentary Review! Hopefully not my last.
I had the privilege of watching Life with Layla at the Montclair Film Festival for the World Premiere. I got to meet both co-directors and even saw the family the film is about, including young Layla who is the primary focus of the film.
Life with Layla provides a unique perspective on the current opioid epidemic plaguing our fellow Americans. What both directors, Mike M. and Kenny S., did to make this film stand apart amidst a sea of similarly themed films was they tell the story through the eyes of Layla. A young girl who knows more about how drugs affect her family and the people around them more than some of us know about the bigger opioid picture altogether. I particularly found this to be a fresh and effective perspective because we begin to grow numb to the same old story being told by the addicts themselves. Hearing it from a child is like blowing the doors off an issue in a whole new way. Layla was seven years old at the time the film crew met her.
The film follows the passing of Layla’s aunt Melissa whose life was cut tragically short due to an overdose. We see how Layla understands what happened as the reasoning her mother, Melissa’s sister Cait, doesn’t hide the truth from her. Most parents wouldn’t even think to tell their child the complete truth yet in doing so her mother hopes to raise awareness and break the cycle of addiction which runs in the family. We often find ourselves stuck in a cycle until an outside force bumps us in a different direction. A direction the family hopes to change through Layla. Not just for their own sake but also to help change the face of addiction. Addiction just doesn’t affect the addict but their families and society. It’s not their problem, it’s our problem. It shows we are all in this together.
The family comes together after Melissa’s passing and we get to learn about all of them. We learn much of the family suffers from some type of addiction, be it alcohol or heavy drug use. We hear about their struggles on an individual and family level which speaks volumes every time Layla chimes in.
Another important difference with this documentary is it shows both the dark side of addiction while also showing the lighter side. They have birthday parties and they go on a road trip with Layla’s uncle Greg. These normal moments in life show us the family, like any other family, enjoying life. It also shows people using and buying drugs which is something many of us are uncomfortable with seeing or even acknowledging.
Seeing these moments really tears your heart out because you know deep down inside the family is full of good people. Even when they go to court on multiple occasions, they explain themselves and why they did what they did. Since this is a documentary and not reality TV, we don’t know how the judges will rule.
The documentary really keeps you on your toes because you don’t know how or when it will end. The story evolves constantly. You don’t know if someone else is going to pass away or not. I give this a solid thumbs up and a must watch for anyone dealing with or knows someone with addiction or any other issues. I don’t personally deal with an addiction myself but as someone who suffers from mental health issues, I felt uplifted and inspired to better myself instead of suffering in silence.
Make sure you keep an eye out for it as they working on getting the film distributed to a network or streaming service near you! Give it a watch if you like real journalism, you know the journalism on the front lines, in the mud, and not scripted.
This review was checked by one of the directors for fact accuracy and other minor details.