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Dustin Putman

Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic  (1975)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: January 29, 2019) – "Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic" is better than its title might suggest, one glance at its moniker and cover art—that of a young Linda Blair drinking vodka out of a coffee cup—enough to make viewers brace themselves for a preachy, sudsy experience. Indeed, this 1975 NBC television movie, directed by Richard Donner (who would move to theatrical features a year later with "The Omen"), might as well be one network removed from being a full-on "ABC Afterschool Special." As overwrought as the screenplay by Esther Shapiro and Robert Shapiro threatens to become, the film strikes numerous truthful notes while bringing surprising layers to its 15-year-old protagonist's struggles.

Linda Blair, fresh off an Oscar nomination for 1973's "The Exorcist," exquisitely carries the film as Sarah Travis, a teenage girl struggling to fit in at her new school while grappling to make peace with her parents' (Verna Bloom and Larry Hagman) divorce. As a means of dulling the pain of her adolescence and loosening up around her classmates, she begins to drink—a habit which turns to an escalating addiction, threatening to destroy her life, her relationships, and her future. A pre-"Star Wars" Mark Hamill charismatically co-stars as Sarah's boyfriend Ken Newkirk, seemingly powerless as he watches an in-denial Sarah spin out of control.

An undeniably entertaining melodrama, "Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic" treats its subject matter with an unsentimental seriousness. Following a hokey opening full of statistics on alcoholism, the narrative proper begins, shaking itself free from sermonizing in favor of an observant character study. Sarah can be difficult and stubborn, but Linda Blair also ensures she remains sympathetic. She's a child crying out for help in her actions, but one who can only get better when she hits rock-bottom and admits to herself she has a problem. Her rough road to this point is fraught with a certain riveting honesty. Carole King's "It's Too Late," sung onscreen by Blair, is beautifully incorporated into the fabric of Sarah's journey, its lyrics—"Something inside has died/And I can't hide/And I just can't fake it"—palpably reverberating throughout the proceedings.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Wow! Until now, "Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic" has never before been available on any home entertainment format. For its sparkling Blu-ray debut, a brand-new 2K scan of the original film elements has been struck, and the results are eye-opening. Clean and vibrant, the 1080p transfer is so terrific it belies the film's 44-year age. Colors pop, black levels are strong, there is dimensionality to the image, and detailing in clothing, hair and facial features is top-notch. With the super-minor exception of some age-related speckling, this is a practically flawless visual presentation. There isn't much chance for sonic fireworks in this dialogue-centric picture, but the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is still thoroughly effective. Dialogue is crystal-clear and well-situated in a mix that also includes some memorable source cues (including an instrumental version of Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back" and the use of Carole King's "It's Too Late"). A late scene involving a busy highway and an auto accident brings a burst of immersive activity to the speakers.

Blu-ray Features
  • "Linda B. on Sarah T.: A Conversation with Linda Blair" Featurette (16:53, HD) – Blair is energetic and nostalgic of her time working on "Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic," and her affection for the film shines through in this excellent new sit-down interview that takes viewers into her career at the time of production and the challenges she faced with playing her role
  • "Richard D. and David L., Portrait of a TV Movie: A Conversation with Director Richard Donner and Producer David Levinson" Featurette (19:30, HD) – Donner and Levinson also exhibit an obvious fondness for their work on the film in their fascinating new respective interviews
  • Photo Gallery (4:01, HD)
Bottom Line
Without Shout! Factory, "Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic" may forever have been lost to time, a quality television movie which nonetheless never received a home video release. Now, with this outstanding Blu-ray premiere, viewers can discover a forgotten gem, highlighted by Linda Blair's great performance. Sure, this is a "Big Issues" drama, but director Richard Donner brings care and poignance to the subject matter while managing to make it cinematic (it rarely "feels" like a network TV movie). "Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic" looks and sounds exceptional on this Blu-ray, and new interviews with actor Blair, director Donner, and producer David Levinson bring additional value to this release. Highly recommended.

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© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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