Review: Hard to embrace ‘Being Charlie,’ despite sobering look at addiction
The father-son collaboration “Being Charlie,” from director Rob Reiner and co-writer Nick Reiner (Matt Elisofon is also credited on the script) mines personal experience for this family drama about the plague of addiction. Nick Robinson plays the titular role, a young man bouncing from one rehab center to the next.
Nick Reiner has publicly discussed his own struggles with addiction, including multiple stays in rehab as a young teen and even homelessness. He has imbued this story with his own experiences, and the complicated relationships in the rehab centers and sober houses feel authentic and lived in, with dark humor and a reckoning with one’s own past. Also authentic are the relapses and crashes as well as the partying that constantly beckons.
The film is well-made — the direction is strong, the cinematography by Barry Markowitz compelling and the script by two first-time writers is confident. The biggest problem with the film is Charlie himself.
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As written, Charlie is very hard to root for until way too late in the film. We’re introduced to him leaving a rehab center in Utah and stealing oxycodone from a cancer-stricken woman along the way. He doesn’t get better from there. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Charlie because his well-to-do parents (Cary Elwes and Susan Misner) don’t let him stay at home, practicing tough love. His dad is cold, a former movie star running for governor of California who would prefer that Charlie stay tucked away in rehab until election day.
Rehab doesn’t seem so bad, either. His biggest problem seems to be that his father refuses to sign off on an overnight pass from the sober house so that he can sleep with his new girlfriend, Eva (Morgan Saylor). It’s very hard to muster
up empathy for him as he hurls fat slurs at some women and sexually objectifies others. He jokes at the expense of a friend who confesses to trading sexual favors for drugs, and explodes when he doesn’t get what he thinks he deserves.
Very late in the film, Charlie experiences his true dark night of the soul, but it’s too late to redeem him. He needs his entitlement checked, and no one in the film does that.
The struggle of addiction is real, but a cinematic representation that is myopic with regard to the unexamined privilege of its main character — fails to offer deeper insight into the motivation for his addiction. Perhaps “Being Charlie” is an examination of the ways in which those who have everything can still be victims of this disease, but Charlie just isn’t a sympathetic vessel for the message.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino
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