Made expressly to shatter the unfair narrative about the correlation between addiction and selfishness, unique drama All the World is Sleeping delivers its potent message in stylish, effective flair. The captivating drama, written and directed by Ryan Lacen, is perhaps most notable for a stunning lead performance by Scream’s Melissa Barrera—the actress continues to craft a fascinating body of work in the wake of notable turns in Vida and In the Heights. A unique scripting process that included vital insights from seven women with a history of substance abuse puts us into the head of an addict like never before. An unfortunate trend of trauma appears to lead into a cyclical chain of addiction, only exacerbated by the complicated process of becoming a mother. Parenthood, trauma, and drug abuse are a fickle combination, and All the World is Sleeping does an impeccable job in revealing insights from rarely-seen perspectives.
Jumping back and forth across past and present timelines, we follow Chama (Barrera) on her complicated journey through addiction, rehabilitation, and motherhood. Chama will do anything it takes to form a better life for her daughter, Nevaeh (Adilynn Marie Menendez). In the beginning of the film, this means desperately trying to get a job. How can one be expected to get back on their feet with the stigma that follows addicts around every turn? It’s almost as if the system is beckoning them back to their bad habits—what else will provide comfort? Certainly, this seems to be how Chama ends up getting high again with a crack pipe, hallucinating the stunning imagery of black feathers raining down around her. Abuela claimed these feathers signaled a warning, but Chama certainly does not heed it.
Rock bottom is different from person to person, and for Chama this means OD’ing in the bathroom of her daughter’s birthday party. All The World Is Sleeping contains the usual reactions of outrage and concern from those around Chama, including her understandably impatient sister, Mari (Alexis B. Santiago). Where the differences in this script come into play are in Chama’s perspective on this whole affair. Seeing her background and history play out in the form of painful flashbacks is often difficult. Occasionally, these jumps in time can be uncomfortable and confusing. They are, however, always entirely necessary, helping to flesh out Chama’s character immensely.
Through every moment of her journey, Chama remains committed to bettering herself for Nevaeh. She wants nothing more than to make sure Nevaeh’s childhood is far less traumatic than her own. Barrera plays every second of this performance with the intensity and devotion of a loving mother. A powerful scene with an unfortunate enabler and fellow addict, Toaster (Jackie Cruz), where Chama begs for someone to “help us” practically drove me to tears. One can feel the heartbreaking devotion of Chama’s need to return to her daughter, but how can she get out of an impossible situation?
In a perfect world wherein a movie like To Leslie can garner an Oscar nomination, it gives hope for smaller indies like All The World Is Sleeping to eventually find a wider audience. Its heartbreaking tale of addiction and motherhood demands to be seen. Only Requiem for a Dream before it has also realistically depicted the manic horror of addiction in all its ugliness; in fact, the two would make for an excellent, if depressing, double feature. Melissa Barrera proves her annoying online haters wrong once again by hitting the harrowing highs of a troubled mother who cannot seem to shake her own past. Stories shared by tertiary characters feel so real and vulnerable that they simply must be true. The involvement of nonprofit organization Bold Futures New Mexico, which leads policy change, research, place-based organizing, and culture shift by and for women and people of color, is simply the cherry on top that makes All the World is Sleeping unlike any other addiction drama.
Don’t miss the tragedy of All the World is Sleeping when it opens in limited release theaters and heads to digital platforms on Friday, March 17h.