If the film Take Your Pills had to be described in a word, it would be “heavy-handed.”
The documentary, which premiered on Netflix in March, claims to examine the use of stimulant medications and their proliferation in American life. But from the opening animation — which shows a skeleton drowning in Adderall-shaped pills — it’s clear that director Alison Klayman has little interest in showing both sides of the story.
The film interviews about a dozen subjects who have taken stimulant medications (mostly Adderall) at some point in their lives. Several of them — like a Goldman Sachs banker or a cartoonish Silicon Valley techie who repeatedly calls Adderall “jet fuel” — openly admit to taking the drugs to get ahead in a culture that constantly demands more. But even when interviewing subjects who had been formally diagnosed with ADHD — mostly college students — Klayman works hard to make the medications seem like nothing more than brain steroids. In the eyes of Take Your Pills, there is no motivation for taking stimulants other than performance enhancement.
Many of the questions addressed in the documentary — some fleetingly — are worth exploring. Does American culture focus too much on results — often at the expense of our physical and mental health? Should pharmaceutical companies be allowed to market directly to consumers — and how much responsibility do they bear for the current rate of stimulant (or opioid) use? Why does the U.S. diagnose ADHD at rates that dwarf the rest of the world — and is there anything that can be done to stem the tide?
Unfortunately, the film fails to address any of these questions in an open, nuanced way. Instead, it relies on jarring animations and repetitive interviews, many with characters who are purposely made to seem unsympathetic. It’s easy for viewers to vilify a rich banker who scammed his way into an Adderall prescription; it’s harder to understand the real, lifelong struggles of many who live with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD.
Anyone who believes that ADHD medications are overprescribed will get what they’re looking for in Take Your Pills. Anyone who thinks there might be more to the story — or anyone with ADHD who benefits from using these medications — will find little more than fear mongering and stigma.
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