When a man loves a woman, is a film about the way alcoholism affects a marriage. It also shows people an alcoholic who recovers (Alice) and her husband Michael, who in some ways was able to deal with her better when she was drunk. Alice is a high school counselor who drinks all day, every day. Michael, her husband is an airline pilot who knows his wife drinks heavy on occasions, but he has no idea of the extent of her drinking. Alice finally confesses to her husband some of her secrets, of how she would get some of her drinks when they were together. One day she goes out drinking after school with a friend and forgets to go home, by the time she remembers it’s after midnight. On another occasion she gets drunk and slaps her oldest daughter and passes out, as she fall she crashes in glass, water and blood. It’s a relief for Alice to admit she is addicted to alcohol. She’s been hiding it too long. Her husband is warm and understanding, arranging for her to check into a treatment facility. It’s after Alice starts being sober, that’s when her husband starts showing signs of being unhappy.
Michael shows how much in love he is, how attentive, how accepting. Sure, she hid a lot of her drinking, but the drinking she couldn’t hide, the episode with the eggs, the scene in Mexico, the night she locks herself out of the house, which would be unacceptable to many spouses. Alice checks herself into a treatment facility, where she begins learning to live with the disease. She makes close friendships with other recovering alcoholics. On visiting day, when a fairly fearsome-looking fellow patient offers to play with their daughter, she reassures her husband: “He’s not a child molester. He’s an armed robber.” Back home, Alice attends a lot of AA meetings, and confides in friends she meets there. Michael is not sure he likes this so much. They have fights, mostly because Michael still has the habit of handling everything, settling problems with the children, making decisions. Now that Alice is ready to participate more fully in the family, he feels threatened. And she is emotionally fragile, too. One day she’s in a foul mood and he wants to know why, so he can help, and she explains that she is simply having a very bad day and there is nothing either one of them can do about it, and he can’t accept that. He needs to know the reason, so he can fix it. It isn’t just about Alice’s recovery. It’s about Michael’s recovery from Alice’s recovery.
She knows what her problem is and what not her problem is. She has a line of dialogue that, in context, is both unexpected and perfect, but this dialogue helps Alcoholism has been called a disease of denial. What “When a Man Loves a Woman” understands is that those around the alcoholic often deny it, too, and grow accustomed to their relationship with a drunk. When the drunk gets sober, he or she becomes a fuller and more competent person, and that can threaten the old relationship. That’s why professionals call alcoholism a “family disease.” It’s a hard concept to understand. The one aspect of this film that I love so much is how no character is faultless in the whole situation. All members have contributed to the problem, and all must face up to what they did and try to improve what they have.