Being Charlie (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
Written by Matt Elisofon and Nick Reiner, “Being Charlie” is supposed to be about an eighteen-year-old being forced to get help from drug addiction, but most frustrating is that every so often the screenplay turns away from what drug addiction and rehabilitation truly is. Instead, once in a while we are handed easy laughs and supposedly moving human connections even though these elements appear at wrong times or not yet earned. As a result, the picture, although it offers some effective moments, is, a whole, an unconvincing walk in the shoes of a young person who needs help but neither knows it nor wants it.
The opening scene is one of the film’s shining moments because it is dipped in irony. It gets the viewers excited because the first image of dramatic pictures tends to set the tone for what they hope to convey or accomplish. We see Charlie (Nick Robinson) sitting in front of a birthday cake and surrounded by people. But it might as well have been a scene from a funeral. There is no joy on our protagonist’s face; there is no sadness or annoyance—his expression is simply blank. He is not surrounded by friends or family but of fellow men and women getting treatment. Everyone in the frame is dressed so formally and the light in the room is so dim, it were as if the birthday is a day of mourning.
We consider: Perhaps Charlie’s birthday wish was to be dead.
But herein lies the problem. Throughout the course of the picture, the screenplay consistently fails to provide enough depth when it comes to the people in Charlie’s lives: those important to him because they are biologically connected (Cary Elwes, Susan Misner), those with whom he chooses to form friendships with (Devon Bostick), and those who end up surprising him because, as it turns out, they genuinely care about his well-being (Common). Details matter most in movies about addiction. Otherwise, as is the case here, the work ends up looking and feeling like a cheap imitation.
The movie, middling in quality for the most part, is elevated by two performers. Robinson is convincing as a troubled teen not because he looks rough or tough. On the contrary, he looks handsome and gentle and so it works when Charlie’s resentment and anger—toward his parents, toward the system, toward himself—surfaces and threaten to flood the room. The other performer is Common, playing one of the leaders of the halfway house who is quite tough but fair. Common commands an almost tactile presence that all the other actors here do not have. Most unfortunate is the filmmakers’ failure to recognize that the relationship between Charlie and Travis is the true heart of their material.
Instead, the majority of its running time is dedicated to Charlie and a potential romance with a girl named Eva (Morgan Saylor). Their relationship offers no excitement or tension because we get the impression within the minute they meet that they are not a good fit for one another. In addition, the conflict between Charlie and his father (Elwes) is contrived, heavy-handed, and so ludicrous at times that such a subplot would fit so perfectly in a bad Lifetime movie.
“Being Charlie,” directed by Rob Reiner, would have been a better film if the writers had dared to look drug addiction and recovery straight in the eye and given us unfamiliar notes, rhythms, and observations about the struggles that come with it. It would have been tougher material to swallow but at least it would have been inspired.