That’s what happens when you’re the boy who drinks too much.
In this made for television social problem film, a young Scott Baio plays Buff Saunders. Buff is a high school student, a star hockey player, and an alcoholic. He drinks because he grew up with an alcoholic father (played by Don Murray) and he learned early that drinking could make him feel confident whenever he was feeling insecure. When Buff’s drinking gets out of control and he starts getting into fights, blowing off school, and seriously injuring himself, he is sent to a rehab center, one that is out of town so that the hockey team doesn’t find out that he’s an alcoholic. His best friend, Billy (Lance Kerwin), rides the bus every day so that he can be there to support Buff but Buff’s own father cannot bring himself to come down there. At first, Buff refuses to admit that he has a problem and won’t even speak up in the group meetings. Eventually, even Billy starts to get tired of Buff’s attitude and his refusal to admit that his drinking has gotten out of control. When Billy says that he’s not going to spend his birthday watching Buff sulk at rehab, Buff is forced to take a look at what his life has become.
The Boy Who Drank Too Much was basically an after school special that got the primetime movie treatment. Scott Baio was in a lot of these movies, which is one reason why it is sometimes tempting to laugh at them today. Baio was never really a bad actor but he was one of those actors who came across as being smarmy even when he was supposed to be playing a sympathetic or sincere character. That’s especially true in The Boy Who Drank Too Much. Even when Buff finally seems to be serious about controlling his drinking, you still never believe his sincerity. When he apologizes for all the harm that his drinking has caused, he still seems like he’s waiting for the chance to grab the flask that he’s hidden somewhere in the room. For the most part, though, that works for the character. Baio’s playing an alcoholic who, for the majority of the movie, just tells people what he thinks they want to hear to get them off his back.
The movie does a good job of showing how a problem like alcoholism can be passed down through the generations. Lance Kerwin and especially Don Murray both give good performances as the two people closest to Buff. Murray appeared in and helped to produce a lot of social problem films like this one and it’s obvious that his heart was really in his performance here. Ed Lauter took a break from appearing in every single Charles Bronson film to play Kerwin’s father and the lovely Toni Kalem, who was one of the most underrated actresses of the era, appears as well. For a television production that’s trying very hard to be socially relevant, The Boy Who Drank Too Much isn’t bad.