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Review: The controversy, and fascination, of ‘A Million Little Pieces’ gets lost in a muddled movie adaptation

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as James Frey in a scene from “A Million Little Pieces.”
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as James Frey in a scene from “A Million Little Pieces.”
(Jeff Gros / Momentum Pictures)

Director/co-writer Sam Taylor-Johnson and co-writer/star Aaron Taylor-Johnson have done the impossible with their adaptation of James Frey’s disgraced rehab memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” They’ve managed to take the Grand Guignol body horror of Frey’s 2003 book (later marketed as a “semi-fictional novel” after a much publicized confession of embellishment to Oprah Winfrey) and render it utterly dull.

Frey’s book was gripping for its gross-out descriptions of a body whipsawing between detox and extreme tox, as the protagonist and his rehab girlfriend swing wildly on the pendulum of relapse and sobriety. However, there was something strangely profound in all of that desperation and gore.

But the Taylor-Johnsons keep their film adaptation fairly tame, save for an opening sequence of crack-induced bum-baring mayhem, and a brutal, whiskey-reeking plane trip. They eschew most of the wild walkabouts for something that slots neatly into the rehab cinematic canon, with our wild card anti-hero, some tough-loving supporting characters (Billy Bob Thornton, Charlie Hunnam and Dash Mihok are warm and welcome presences), and a therapist (Juliette Lewis). Yet nothing on screen is as electrifying or surprising as it was on the page, as semi-fictionally enhanced as the writing was.

Arriving more than a decade after Winfrey dressed down Frey on her show, this straightforward and earnest adaptation doesn’t even touch the semi-fictional of it all, which feels like only half of the picture when it comes to this yarn. One can’t help but wonder: What is even the point?

‘A Million Little Pieces’
Rating: R, for drug material, language throughout, some graphic nudity and sexual content

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Playing: Arclight Sherman Oaks
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