Movie review of “The Adderall Diaries”: James Franco and Ed Harris bring an edgy, explosive energy to this fact-based story about author Stephen Elliott’s renewed acquaintance with an abusive father. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
In an era when celebrity disclosure of childhood trauma is common in media, it’s unusual to encounter an aggrieved memoirist who broadens his perspective on personal history.
“The Adderall Diaries,” based on a 2009 autobiographical book by author Stephen Elliott, is a tough if bumpy account of the writer’s painful but illuminating relationship with an abusive father.
James Franco brings a raw, shadowy authenticity to Stephen, whose twitchy unease with literary success is a signal that something is off. The truth is revealed when Neil (Ed Harris), the father who Elliott claimed was dead in a recent book, shows up at a public reading and humiliates him.
Movie Review ★★★
‘The Adderall Diaries,’ with James Franco, Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Cynthia Nixon. Written and directed by Pamela Romanowsky, based on a memoir by Stephen Elliott. 105 minutes. Rated R for language, nudity, drug use. Varsity.
Though Stephen’s deception shatters his career, he is less interested in helping his agent (Cynthia Nixon) with damage control than in losing himself in pills, sadomasochistic sex and — more intriguingly — the murder trial of real-life computer entrepreneur Hans Reiser (Christian Slater).
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The latter, a self-described good father accused of killing his wife, strikes a chord with Stephen just when his own ossified self-pity is challenged by Neil, who remembers their family dramas differently than his son.
Writer-director Pamela Romanowsky, in her first feature, captures both fireworks and tragedy in go-for-broke scenes between Franco and Harris. Those emotional peaks bring clarity to Stephen’s murky conflicts, without getting soppy about painful epiphanies or redemption.
Oddly, Romanowsky’s instincts elsewhere run counter to that. Much of “The Adderall Diaries” is too impressionistic to know quite what hell Stephen survived. The film’s biggest misstep — Stephen’s S&M-tinged romance with a reporter (Amber Heard) — is a convenient trope for magnifying his self-destructiveness.
What rescues “Diaries” and its grimy, cracked-glass look is its firm grip on Stephen’s incremental awareness that he and his misery are not the center of the universe. There’s nothing like a character growing up before one’s eyes.