Checking in on an artist’s work after a scandal is always problematic.
If you don’t look at the films of Roman Polanski, James Toback, Kevin Spacey or Brett Ratner differently after their public shaming, you’ve got a shorter memory than me.
Well, Ratner always sucked, kind of a general consensus all along.
If there’s one good thing — to be glib — about the #MetToo self-engineered takedown of workaholic/sexaholic James Franco, it’s that we finally have the chance to catch up on a vast body of indie work, movies that few people saw, now that he’s a lot less employable.
“The Adderall Diaries” doesn’t make you flinch at every young woman we see on the set with him (his predatory MO), because there aren’t any. Pairing him up with Amber Heard, giving Wilmer Valderama a supporting role just seems…tabloid appropriate.
It’s based on writer Stephen Elliott’s memoir about his troubled past, his “monster” father, his sins against veracity and the victimhood.
As a film, adapter-director Pamela Romanowsky’s take on its many themes and subtexts is cluttered, unsatisfying almost by design. It’s “Running With Scissors” and “The Great Santini” grafted onto “True Story,” with Franco recast as a version of the Jonah Hill character in that one — with Christian Slater as the murderer (Hans Reiser) that the grandiose Elliott figured he’d get his “In Cold Blood” out of.
Romanowsky has to do justice to three major threads — Elliott in the present, riding high with his editor/agent (Cynthia Nixon) calling him with one offer after another and Elliott in the past, the two-fisted, drug-abusing childhood (Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet plays the younger Stephen).
And then there’s the criminal trial that Elliott haunts, and which haunts him — a father (Slater), even worse than his own father, accused of murder. That’s what triggers his descent back into drugs, and that’s the leg of the movie that Romanowsky gives short shrift to.
What sparkles here is the interaction between Franco and Ed Harris, playing Elliott’s “monster” of a father, Neil. The kid’s gotten published and famous writing about his “dead” abusive dad. Imagine how awkward it is when that dad interrupts the self-made star of the literary scene at a tony New York book reading.
“How convenient for you to have a dead monster for a father!” Neil scares the gathered glitterati almost as much as much as he “might” have scared the son, who lost himself in every drug under the sun, state custody, group homes, suicide attempts — all according to Stephen.
This revelation, that the “dead” father is still living, makes the whole fact-checking-impaired New York publishing community back away from him. At least he’s got this murder trial he can turn into a book, right?
Movie memoirs like this always make one wonder just how much was invented, and how trustworthy the narrator/hero is, shown to be self-absorbed and prone to seeing things his own dishonest, self-glorifying way. It’s not overwhelming, this fear of narrative dishonesty. But on a marginal film, it doesn’t help.
Heard plays an equally disturbed New York times reporter with a thing for his motorcycle, drawn into Elliott’s dark sexual practices and his “story,” which is probably more true than false.
Chalamet, a reason many will check into this after his breakout turn in the over-rated, over-ripe “Call Me By Your Name,” makes an impressive impact in flashbacks that feature little dialogue.
Franco holds his own with Harris, is utterly convincing in the kinky scenes (go figure) and makes us wonder just what the final penalty his predations will impose with regards to his career.
As his character starts to see his upbringing through the eyes of others, starts measuring the shades of gray that color his father’s “crimes” and his own excesses and misdeeds, you can’t help but wonder if Franco’s off-camera life will benefit from shades of gray. You wonder about the age-old Hollywood equation — “relationships” built on furthering careers — and wonder if his relative youth gives Franco room for a comeback that Kevin Spacey will likely never see.
In any event, he filled his IMDB page with too many credits like this one –– thoughtful, challenging dramas worth making, but underwhelming in execution, their stories and themes as over-familiar as the over-exposed Franco’s bearded, not-wholly-thought-out performances.
MPAA Rating:R for language throughout, drug use, sexuality, and some aberrant and disturbing content
Cast: James Franco, Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Cynthia Nixon, Christian Slater, Timothée Chalamet
Credits: Written and directed by Pamela Romanowsky, based on the Stephen Elliott book. An A24 release.
Running time: 1:26