The Adderall Diaries (2015)

Genres - Action, Drama, Thriller  |   Release Date - Apr 15, 2016 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jack Rodgers

Technically well-made but maddeningly shallow, The Adderall Diaries ends up being little more than a vanity project that makes its star look deeply annoying. Wildly successful, bad-boy writer Stephen Elliott (James Franco, natch) has mined his abusive childhood for material for an acclaimed memoir, but is soon confronted by his father (Ed Harris), who suggests he's heavily exaggerating everything to make himself look better.

As formulaic as Elliott's character arc is, writer/director Pamela Romanowsky (adapting a book of the same name by Stephen Elliott) felt the need to surround it with a bunch of subplots she never bothers to flesh out. Elliott has a beautiful girlfriend (Amber Heard) who was also abused as a teen, but the movie never cares about her issues because she's only there to redeem him. He covers the trial of a guy accused of killing his wife (Christian Slater in a nothing role), but it never ties into the rest of the story, either thematically or plot wise. Also, Elliott is supposed to be in constant torment due to his unresolved emotional trauma, yet the ways the film depicts that -- drug use, wild partying, S&M-flavored sex -- are all made to look pretty cool. Even when his character is supposed to be sad and pathetic, Franco can't stop being awesome.

There's an interesting idea here, about the way we distort our memories so we're the heroes of our own stories, but the screenplay doesn't make the audience work for anything: The conflict ultimately comes down to a heart-to-heart between father and son that arrives out of nowhere and instantly solves all of the hero's problems. In the end, The Adderall Diaries is a failure of nerve that's too sappy to be a gritty indie drama about overcoming abuse, and too muddled to be a typical Hollywood tale of finding redemption.