WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) — “I maybe didn’t handle it the best way,” said Rob Reiner of his son’s struggles with drugs.
It’s a story that stayed out of the tabloids while it was happening, but by the time Nick Reiner was 18 years old, he had already cycled in and out of nine treatment facilities with bouts of homelessness and relapses in between.
“I listened to a lot of people who had a desk and a diploma,” Rob Reiner said. “I didn’t really think about my kid and what he needed.”
Seated in a leather armchair in a cozy corner of his West Hollywood office on a recent afternoon, Rob Reiner spoke candidly about that difficult time. He’s had a few years now to process what he and his family went through. Now, Rob and Nick Reiner explore the ordeal in the semi-autobiographical film “Being Charlie,” out in limited release Friday.
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The idea for a film had crossed Rob Reiner’s mind but for many reasons it wasn’t something he could handle in the moment. Unbeknownst to him, his son had been working on something about the absurdities of his experience with a friend, Matt Elisofon, who he met at a treatment center.
With Rob Reiner’s eventual guidance, the two friends’ script evolved from a half-hour rehab comedy into “Being Charlie,” a more dramatic and truthful rendering of a teenage boy’s issues with drugs, rehab and a famous father that takes into account the parents’ side of things, too. “Jurassic World’s” Nick Robinson stars as the disaffected, searching kid at the center.
“Being Charlie” is not solely Nick and Rob Reiner’s story, but there are details scattered throughout. In the film, the father, a movie star with political ambitions played by Cary Elwes (working with Rob Reiner for the first time since “The Princess Bride”) says the thing about desks and diplomas, for instance. The ending, too, changed repeatedly during production as the Reiners’ relationship evolved.
“We didn’t go into it thinking this is going to be therapeutic or bring us closer, but it did come out that way,” Rob Reiner said. “It forced us to understand ourselves better than we had. I told Nick while we were making it, I said, ‘you know it doesn’t matter, whatever happens to this thing, we won already. This has already been good.’ We’ve worked through a lot of stuff.”
It’s a reflective time for Rob Reiner, who just turned 69 in March but is already saying he’s “almost 70.” While he’s still “Meathead” from TV’s “All In the Family” to many boomers, younger generations see him more as the director of a handful of now-classic movies.
The offices of his Castle Rock independent production company are inhabited by posters, photos and trinkets from his half century in the business, like a worn scrapbook of photos from “The Princess Bride” casually displayed on the coffee table.
“You live a life and you start to think, what are the things you’ve thought about over the course of your life? If you still have the energy and the ability to do it, then you find ways to do it as long as you can do it,” Rob Reiner said. “I mean, look at Clint Eastwood!”
And he’s staying active in the industry, even if the landscape of how films get made has changed drastically.
“I made a lot of films at Castle Rock because we financed them. We didn’t have to go to anybody. In all the films I’ve made and all the films that Castle Rock has made — it’s probably 125 — not one of them would get made at a studio today. None of them,” Rob Reiner said. “Even the big hits like ‘A Few Good Men’ and ‘City Slickers,’ they just wouldn’t get made. I was lucky to have a situation where I could do the things I wanted.”
This has been going on for a while, though. He said he even struggled to get a studio interested in “The Bucket List,” with stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson attached.
Rob Reiner is still making things work, though. He has to scramble a little more with tiny budgets and look to the smaller independent distributors that support adult dramas. He recently wrapped work on his Woody Harrelson-led Lyndon B. Johnson film “LBJ,” which he’s currently shopping around to distributors.
“It’s insane how good he is. It’s off the charts,” he said of Harrelson in the film. “This is a performance that people will look at and go ‘OK, all right, this is major.'”
Nick Reiner, meanwhile, is continuing to write and his dad is supportive, even if he can empathize with the inherent pressures of being now the third generation of Reiners to enter the business.
“Nick has it worse than I did because he’s got not only me but he’s got his grandfather (writer-actor-producer Carl Reiner). So he’s got to deal with that stuff,” Rob Reiner said. “He’s brilliant, he’s funny, he’s so smart and he’s deep thinking. He’s so different from me. And I think the next project he does, he’s going to do something that’s his own and very different from what I do, which is great.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr