The Adderall Diaries


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

James Franco and Ed Harris in The Adderall Diaries
"The emotions of the characters can barely find any wiggle room." | Photo: Anna Kooris

Lately, James Franco seems to have a thing for mentally tortured writers. At Sundance there was I Am Michael, the true story of gay journalist Michael Glatze who went on to renounce his sexuality, and at Berlin he played a author who used tragedy for material in Wim Wenders Every Thing Will Be Fine. Now, in a role that unfortunately mirrors the emotional flatness of Wenders' film, he is Stephen Elliott in this adaptation of memoir/true crime hybrid The Adderall Diaries. Elliot is a blocked writer (is there any other sort as far as filmmakers are concerned?) with daddy issues, a drug habit and a self-destructive streak as wide as the Hudson.

All this hasn't got in the way of a burgeoning career writing about his brutal childhood at the hands of his not-so-dear departed dad (Ed Harris), glimpsed in fractured flashbacks of happier and much unhappier times taking his son for a ride as he sits on his back like a rodeo rider, the smiles forgotten in intertwining images of him plunging Stephen's head under a bath of water as he thrashes beneath him. But, with a high price-tag book deal waiting in the wings Stephen just can't seem to settle on a fresh subject - and that's before it turns out that dad is not-so-departed and desperate to reconnect with his son.

Mixed in with this is the real life murder trial of high-flying computer ace Hans Reiser (Christian Slater in a role so scant you wonder what drew him to it) who is charged with murdering his wife - and whom Stephen is presumably drawn to because of Reiser's conflicted relationship with his young children. And wafting in on a breeze from the land of wafer-thin female characters is Lana (Amber Heard) - supposedly a New York Times court reporter but who perpetually looks as though she just dropped in from the nearest catwalk and, apparently, never has to file a story. Writing, in general, is poorly depicted in the film, with Lana seemingly working in a fantasy realm where she can get a left-field story in the paper at a drop of a hat and Stephen only ever writing in single sentences of 24-point sized text.

These are small concerns compared to the film's major problem that despite there being an awful lot going on narratively - there's also Stephen's penchant for masochistic sex - the emotions of the characters can barely find any wiggle room. Debut feature director Pamela Romanowsky works well with her actors but her repeated use of the same flashback sequences to little cumulative effect betrays inexperience. The idea that everyone is the unreliable narrator of their own history is the chief theme but despite it being under-lined by Stephen's voice-over Romanowsky doesn't dig at the issue enough. Her film comes to life the strongest in scenes where Stephen attempts to narrate the lives of others, particularly in charged exchanges with Harris and a powerful sex scene in which his desire for Lana to hurt him is married to a disturbing urge to make her consider her past in ways she has clearly told him she has no interest in.

There is also good work on show from Cynthia Nixon, as Stephen's ballsy editor and Jim Parrack as his long-time pal Roger but committed performances don't compensate for the lack of substance lying beneath.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2015
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A blocked writer with a difficult personal life becomes obsesssed by a real-life murder trial.
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Director: Pamela Romanowsky

Writer: Pamela Romanowsky, based on the book by Stephen Ellliott

Starring: James Franco, Amber Heard, Ed Harris, Christian Slater, Cynthia Nixon, Jim Parrack

Year: 2015

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2015

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