Clean and Sober (1988): Glenn Gordon Caron’s Drama, Starring Michael Keaton in First Non-Comedic Part as an Alcoholic

Glenn Gordon Caron directed Clean and Sober, starring Michael Keaton as a real estate agent struggling with a substance abuse problem.

This film served as Keaton’s first dramatic departure from what he was best known for at that time, comedies.

The superlative supporting cast includes Kathy Baker, M. Emmet Walsh, Morgan Freeman, Luca Bercovici and Tate Donovan.

Ron Howard, who previously directed Keaton in the comedies Night Shift (1982) and Gung Ho (1986), served as co-producer.

Daryl Poynter is a successful but self-destructive Philadelphia real estate salesman who is addicted to cocaine. He embezzles $92,000 of his company’s money from escrow account and then loses $52,000 to his addiction and the stock market.

Waking up one morning next to a girl who suffered heart attack from cocaine overdose, he tries to cover up the drug use, but the police know what happened.

Daryl tries to flee the country, but his credit card is declined and he has no cash. His colleague Martin also refuses to put him up. Daryl then learns of drug rehabilitation program, which lasts about a month and guarantees anonymity.

He checks in, figuring he can hide out there. While in rehab he meets Craig, a tough but supportive drug rehabilitation counselor. Craig helps Daryl to realize he is an addict and that his life is complete chaos. He says to him, “The best way to break old habits is to make new ones.”

At a 12-step meeting, Daryl meets the older, reformed addict Richard Dirks (M. Emmet Walsh), who becomes his sponsor.

Richard eventually encourages Daryl to confess at work what he’s done with the money. He is promptly fired. Daryl becomes attracted to a fellow patient, a woman named Charlie Standers. She is a steel foundry worker who is addicted to alcohol and cocaine. Charlie is involved in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Lenny, a fellow addict to whom Charlie acts as a codependent. Daryl falls in love with Charlie and urges her to leave Lenny. He finally succeeds, only to witness Lenny’s manipulative way of winning her back. Daryl tries to remain in Charlie’s life to help her stay sober. After another fight with Lenny, she leaves the house, does a hit of cocaine (and perhaps return to Daryl) and is killed in a car accident. In despair, Daryl also feels a strong temptation to return to drugs. He visits Richard, who talks him out of it.

Near the end of the rather grim and depressing story, Daryl, confused but hopeful and reborn, accepts his 30-Day Sobriety Chip in front of fellow members.

The film ends with a distorted shot of cars taking off into the night.

Then- U.S. President Ronald Reagan viewed this film at Camp David in September 1988.

Michael Keaton won the 1988 National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor for his performances in both Clean and Sober and Beetlejuice.


Michael Keaton as Daryl Poynter
Kathy Baker as Charlie Standers
Morgan Freeman as Craig
M. Emmet Walsh as Richard Dirks
Luca Bercovici as Lenny
Tate Donovan as Donald
Claudia Christian as Iris
Brian Benben as Martin
Henry Judd Baker as Xavier
J. David Krassner as Tiller
Dakin Matthews as Bob
Ben Piazza as Kramer
Rachel Ryan as Karen Peluso