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December 30, 2016


Being Charlie

by Franz Patrick

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.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. GaryGreg828
    Dec 30 2016

    I started this movie, but didn’t finish it yet. I think I will in the near future. I think Nick Robinson’s a pretty good up-and-coming actor.

    • GaryGreg828
      Jan 10 2017

      I just finished this and came back to finish your review. Your review is spot-on. This could have been much better had they developed and fleshed-out the story more; instead it feels rushed and forced, particularly the sequence w/ his best friend towards the end. Nick Robinson did a good job of carrying the film, but the writers didn’t give him a strong enough script. Will like to see him in future films w/ stronger scripts and see how good he can be.

      • Jan 10 2017

        We’re in 100% agreement here. I would like to see Robinson in more daring screenplays. I think he has a lot of potential. I’m not 100% convinced he is a chameleon but there is something there.

  2. GaryGreg828
    Dec 30 2016

    Well, I can’t find the comment anywhere to reply where we discussed our top 10 list of 2015. I see your list on your archives, but there’s no where to reply or comment on your list entry…

    We had an exchange where I said I was going to post my top 10 of 2015, and you wanted to know what my list was. Well, I never got around to it. lol.

    But I will run my 2015 list by you here:

    *some of these were made in late 2014, but released in 2015 (here in the US)…

    10. A Most Violent Year
    09. Kingsman Secret Service
    08. Spectre
    07. Bone Tomahawk
    06. Sicario
    05. Creep
    04. Backcountry
    03. Faults
    02. Creed
    01. The Gift

    Honorable Mention: Ex Machina, Cop Car, Spring.

    I won’t have a top 10 for 2016 as I don’t watch that many movies, anymore. I watched this film on Amazon today called “Equals” with Kristen Stewart that I thought was really good, though I know it’s not a film for everyone…

    I won’t have a list for 2016, but am definitely looking forward to seeing yours. :)

    • Jan 10 2017

      Thanks for letting me know your list.

      I never understood the hype/acclaim behind “A Most Violent Year.” Maybe I need to rewatch it. I just found it so dull and boring.

      Happy to see “Bone Tomahawk” on your list. I was completely surprised by that movie.

      Surprised to see “Backcountry” way up on your list. I thought it was tolerable, nothing great. Even more surprised that “The Gift” is your #1 pick! I think we had a discussion on this, about how the premise sounds eerily similar to a certain title… Will look into “Faults.”

      Will have my list of top 2016 up by January 15th!

      • GaryGreg828
        Jan 10 2017

        I think I liked A Most Violent Year so much b/c of Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac’s performances, and I became fully engaged in Isaac’s desperate plight. There was a lot of layers to Isaac’s character which to me was intriguing, and actually resonates a bit of Michael Corleone; good at their core, but had to make difficult decisions.

        I loved the suspense of Backcountry! That movie freaked me out! I loved the build-up. I am glad the first hour was slow. I like the anticipation to build; movies that start out fast and then don’t build come across cheesy most of the time. Now, if you can start fast and still build momentum throughout, like Terminator 2, then that’s great, but an extremely rare feat. Backcountry to me was so good b/c it felt realistic and not an over-the-top action movie; like “The Shallows”. THAT was laughable it was so over-the-top!

        Really, I wouldn’t necessarily put “The Gift” at #1 b/c honestly these titles are pretty interchangeable to me. I don’t like The Gift way more than A Most Violent Year. Push comes to shove, this is my order, but really these were just 10 films I liked a lot from 2015. It really wasn’t a great year for me the way 2014 was! “The Gift” was intriguing. “Creed” had that heart and nostalgia factor. “Faults” was intriguing. “Backcountry” and “Creep” had that suspense factor. And the ending of “Sicario” was underwhelming, but if it had finished as strong as it started, it probably would have been my #1. That opening sequence was one of the best I’ve seen; unfortunately, it never matched that intensity again – but it was still a really good film. And there’s a sequel coming out this year, but no Emily Blunt. I guess her character really did have enough. :)

        And yes dude, check out “Faults”. I’m surprised you haven’t seen it. It’s on netflix, so easy access. It’s very off-beat and unpredictable. The opening scene is hilarious to me! lol. Hope you like it and give a positive review.

        Glad to hear you will have a list for 2016 soon. I actually watched a slew of movies over the last couple weeks and think I actually have enough to make a list of my own; of course, It won’t be very reliable since I’ve only seen just over 40 movies from the past year, but I think there will be some interesting titles on there. :)


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