There's a salient fact about Rob Reiner's Being Charlie that's hard to ignore. The heartfelt, often harrowing drama about a teenager's descent into hopelessness, drug addiction, and self-hatred is based on the experiences of Reiner's 22-year-old son, Nick, who co-wrote the screenplay.
A well-crafted work that features a powerful performance by former child actor Nick Robinson (Jurassic World), Being Charlie is far too predictable, relying too often on all-too-familiar drug-story tropes.
I imagine it was tough-going for father and son to face their demons even as they memorialized them on film. While this adds poignancy to the story behind the film's making, should it color our judgment of the work itself?
It can't but help affect how we receive the film, but I'm not so sure that it should.
The movie opens in a drug rehab in the middle of the Utah desert where Charlie Mills has spent the better part of six months. (It's like a dude ranch, but with 12-step philosophy instead of hay.)
It's Charlie's 18th birthday party, a miserable, depressing affair organized by fellow patients and the facility's drug counselors.
A high school dropout who has seen all his friends matriculate at top colleges across the country, Charlie was sent to Utah by his obscenely wealthy parents who have become increasingly alienated and hostile after dealing for years with the boy's addiction.
Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) is wonderful - and Schwarzeneggerian - as the dad, a former TV star turned gubernatorial candidate. Susan Misner (The Americans) gives a heart-rending performance as his submissive wife, who is forced to keep silent about her concern for her boy lest it affect her husband's public image.
Charlie, who has resisted the treatment from day one, is now legally an adult, so he signs himself out and travels back home, hoping he can sweet-talk his way back into his family's good graces. But he robs himself of a chance to prove he's a changed man when he makes a pit stop on the way to get wasted with his pal Adam (Devon Bostick).
A perverse comedy ensues at the Mills' sprawling Bel Air mansion when a defiant, belligerent Charlie arrives high as a kite: He actually expresses astonishment and outrage when he's told he'll find no succor at home. Before the day is up, he's sent to another rehab. And so begins a new cycle of half-hearted submission, blazing rebellion, and burnt-out resentment.
Morgan Saylor (Homeland) is rather good as a fellow addict at the new facility who captures Charlie's heart. They help each other stay straight. Until they don't - romance and recovery don't mix. And Common has a good turn as a counselor who puts the punch back into tough love.
Being Charlie falters at the midway point, sinking into tedious, repetitive scenes that seem to have no point other than to illustrate the tedium of an addict's life. There are only so many 12-step meetings one can take, only so many shots of Charlie's scoring and taking dope.
More serious is the film's inability to make us care for Charlie, his family, or his friends as deeply as we should. Instead of loving this wounded boy, I felt angry - angry at his self-indulgence, at his sense of entitlement, and at the wealth that allowed him to treat rehab as a rest stop he could revisit any time he wanted.
One comes out of the theater wondering whether unease, ennui, and angst are another set of luxury goods for the wealthy.