Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic

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Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic
Genre Drama
Distributed by NBC
Directed by Richard Donner
Produced by Stuart Cohen (associate producer)
David Levinson (producer)
Written by Richard and Esther Shapiro
Starring Linda Blair
Larry Hagman
Verna Bloom
William Daniels
Mark Hamill
Music by James Di Pasquale
Cinematography Gayne Rescher
Editing by Richard Bracken
Production company Universal Television
Country United States
Language English
Original channel NBC
Release date February 11, 1975
Running time 96. min

Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic is a 1975 made-for-TV film about a teenager who becomes an alcoholic.[1] A huge ratings success at the time, the film has yet to be made available (as of 2013) to the home-viewing market, either on videotape or DVD.

Plot Summary[edit]

Sarah Travis (Linda Blair) is a 15-year old girl dealing with feelings of isolation and inadequacy. Her parents are divorced and she has minimal contact with her alcoholic father. Sarah lives with her mother, JoAnne, and stepfather, Matt. They do not notice how lonely Sarah is. She feels overshadowed by her sister, Nancy, and wishes to live with her father.

Sarah commences drinking alcohol at a party hosted by her mother and stepfather. She feels uncomfortable with standard questions the guests ask her about how she is doing at school and what her favorite subjects are. Sarah is overcome with anxiety when she is forced to engage in conversations with important people at the party. She feels out of place in several situations. For example, her desire to fit in at school manifests itself with her attempting to become a member of the Glee Club. Unfortunately, Sarah is not accepted.

Over the course of the film, Sarah makes numerous attempts to have contact with her salesman father, Richard (Larry Hagman), who often ignores his daughter's sincere attempts to have a meaningful father-daughter relationship with him. When Richard makes the effort to see her, he presents himself as someone who is interested in Sarah's life and wants to please his daughter. They often have fun together. When they meet, Sarah is disappointed to discover that her father is unemployed. He responds by asking Sarah to get him a beer. Her mood, however, improves when her father tells her that he threw his sample case from a bridge; this is a source of amusement for her. Richard shows that he is capable of showing affection for his daughter. Sarah is even more pleased when Richard gives her money in order to purchase an outfit.

At first, when Sarah drinks, the alcohol seems to suppress her feelings of anxiety, insignificance and inadequacy. She associates happiness with drinking. For example, Sarah is embarrassed and humiliated when her mother arranges for her to attend a party at the Peterson's with a date, Ken. When Sarah emphatically states that she does not want to go, her mother's primary concern is of the social repercussions if Sarah does not attend the party. Thus, at the party, Sarah plies herself with alcohol in order to satiate her feelings of inferiority. She surprises herself and others when she plays the guitar, which everyone at the party appreciates. When Sarah becomes inebriated at the party, her parents attribute blame to Ken, even though it was Sarah who made the conscious decision to drink copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. JoAnne is more concerned with the impression that the guests formed at the party of Sarah as opposed to caring about the welfare of her daughter.

Ken (Mark Hamill) exhibits an interest in Sarah. For example, he introduces her to his horse, Daisy. He invites her to spend a day with him and the two teenagers bond while riding Daisy. As a result of Sarah's close relationship with Ken, Sarah becomes more popular at school. While life at school improves for Sarah, her home life continues to be complicated, confusing and erratic. For example, her mother decides to fire Margaret, the housekeeper, whom she has accused of watering down the scotch. Sarah knows that she herself is to blame and attempts to stand up for Maragaret. By this point in time, Sarah has begun to appropriate the alcohol which is delivered to the house.

Although Sarah exhibits symptoms of shame as a result of her drinking, she begins to consume alcohol at school. Matters become even more complex for Sarah when the school counsellor speaks to JoAnne and Sarah about the fact that Sarah has not attended classes. JoAnne also realises that Sarah has forged notes in JoAnne's name excusing her daughter from her classes. The counsellor is adamant that something is wrong in Sarah's life. JoAnne takes offence to this statement. The counsellor characterises Sarah as a student with a high I.Q. who once took a diligent approach to her schoolwork. JoAnne resents the counsellor's interventions and feels that she is being targeted because Sarah's parents are divorced.

When Ken confronts Sarah about her binge drinking, she confesses that she drinks because the alcohol makes life a little bit easier. As the film progresses, Sarah endeavours to be regarded as mature. Her Daffy Duck hat, however, belies her attempts. She dons the hat when she babysits for the Tylers. When she does so, Ken (whom Sarah has invited along) gently rebuffs her when she tells him that she loves him. To make matters worse, Sarah is unable to contact with her father when she attempts to do so by telephone. Sarah drinks when she is supposed to be babysitting and then passes out. When her mother discovers what Sarah has been up to, her only concern is that Sarah will be the focus of neighbourhood gossip. In a confrontation with Matt and JoAnne, Sarah states that she has been drinking almost everyday for two years.

As she drinks more, however, things begin to get out of control. When Sarah and her mother see a doctor, her mother proves her inadequacy as a parent because she refuses to believe that Sarah has a problem and is only concerned what other people will think. Despite her mother's criticism, Sarah attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where she meets Bobby, who is even younger than Sarah. What Bobby tells the group resonates with Sarah. She recognises herself in what Bobby says, such as the lying to other people as well as to oneself.

During her family therapy sessions, Sarah expresses a desire for her family to be complete once again and for her parents to stop fighting. When Matt reveals that he is unable to have full custody of Sarah because of the nature of his job, Sarah once again feels the irresistible urge to drink. She is unable to purchase liquor because of her young age. She then asks a group of rough-looking teenagers to purchase a fifth of vodka for her. Sarah attempts to seal the bargain by inviting the youths to do anything that they would like to Sarah. They oblige, but tease her by devouring most of the bottle themselves. After she devours a bottle of vodka, she decides to take Daisy for a ride. Sarah's actions have fatal consequences for Daisy.

Sarah spends time in a hospital, where she expresses extreme remorse for the way she has acted. She does not understand why she has been placed in a world where the only feelings she possesses are rotten and dismay. Sarah realises how much she has loved when not only her Mother and Father are willing to assist, but also her friends whom she has met when she attended the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

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