Review: The Adderall Diaries
PLOT: A celebrated author's memoir about his abusive dad comes under intense scrutiny when it's revealed he lied about certain aspects of his life, including the death of his very much alive father.
REVIEW: THE ADDERALL DIARIES is an incredibly boring vanity project from James Franco that felt about two times longer than its relatively brief 87 minute running time. One of those arthouse movies Franco consistently churns out, presumably because it makes him look literate and worldly, it mopes and drags itself along a pretentious path with all the energy of a medicated sloth. It's based on a well-regarded book that I haven't read, so I mean no disrespect to the source material because there are interesting notions buried within, but Franco (who produced and shepherded the project) and director Pamela Romanowsky are hard-pressed to turn the book into a movie worth sitting through. (And, for what it's worth, the author of the book has already dismissed the film.)
The film's plot focuses on a semi-successful writer named Stephen Elliot, who is receiving a lot of attention for a book he's written about his miserable childhood. In his memoir, Stephen recounts harrowing incidents with his monster of a father Ned (Ed Harris), who treated Stephen like dirt until completely abandoning him in favor of another family. Stephen claims his father is now dead, but during a book reading it turns out that, surprise!, Ned is not dead, because there he is, crashing the reading and calling everyone phonies and a-holes. Stephen is devastated, naturally, because his charade has been exposed and now nobody wants to publish any more of his writing. (Too bad no one - not the publisher, not his editor - fact-checked the claims in his memoir, eh?) Stephen is now all set to frown for the ensuing weeks while working out daddy issues and engaging in a whirlwind love affair with a New York Times reporter (Amber Heard) who likes him because she's got issues too.
The movie's first and most pressing problem is the character of Stephen. As written by Romanowsky and played by Franco, he's a self-centered jerk who never once seems worthy of our attention. He's one of those writers in movies that is well-known and prolific despite the fact we never learn what makes him a good author. The more we find out about him (his "misremembering" about his past extends beyond just saying his father's dead), the more we come to dislike him. When he happens upon a sensational murder trial involving a seemingly average man (Christian Slater) who evidently murdered his entire family, Stephen believes his coverage of it will wipe clean his slate and place him among greats like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer (who both crafted famous books about murderers). This storyline is mostly pointless, although Stephen (and the movie) draws parallels between the case of the father-turned-killer and his own hazy childhood, but it's done in such a heavy-handed manner that those connections never seem natural; like everything else supposedly deep about the plot, it's forced. While there are intriguing ideas sprinkled throughout that I'm sure come from the book, like the way two people can remember a past incident in extremely different ways, Romanowsky's plodding script and detached directorial style don't allow them to resonate.
If Franco and his character are predictable bores here, at least the film can rely on Ed Harris popping up every once and a while to lend it some believable pathos. Playing a man wounded by what he did to his son, and by what his son has done to him, Harris gives a heartfelt performance that's way better than the film deserves. Heard is fine if not entirely believable as Franco's journalist/girlfriend, although their relationship has no sparks, even when the two are in the throes of passion. (He likes getting choked sometimes, that's "edgy," right?) Other supporting turns, by the likes of Slater and Cynthia Nixon, don't leave much of an impression; you get the sense everyone's just doing Franco a favor by showing up.