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Being Charlie, a dramedy that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 14 as an acquisition title, offers an introduction to the third generation of the Reiner family: the film was directed by Rob Reiner, the son of TV comedy legend Carl Reiner and star and director of many classic films, from a script co-written by and based on his complicated relationship with his own son, Nick Reiner. One might reasonably expect any project that involves multiple Reiners to be funny, and this one certainly offers its fair share of laughs. But, somewhat surprisingly, it’s also very dark and very personal — Rob introduced it as “the most personal film I’ve ever made.”
The film looks at how Nick (played by Jurassic World‘s Nick Robinson as “Charlie”) responded to life in the shadow of his father (played by Cary Elwes, best known as the star of Rob’s The Princess Bride, as “David”), and how Rob responded — or failed to respond — to Nick’s response. One never knows what happens in another family’s home, and it turns out that the Reiners‘ was far less sunny than most would have assumed, with Nick becoming a drug addict at a young age and then resisting — with increasing aggression — his father’s efforts to force him to get help.
I don’t know who the intended audience for this film is — to be honest, I think it was probably made first and foremost as a cathartic exercise for Nick and Rob — but I do know that I’m not sorry I saw it. Sure, there were moments when I wanted to slap Nick for being whiny or a smartass and Rob for his inability to juggle his familial responsibilities with his personal ambitions. But then I remembered that we are the products of nature (Nick’s addictions and related misbehavior may have been unavoidable) and nurture (Rob handled life in the shadow of his father by becoming a star himself and therefore may not have been able to relate to his son, who wanted not to stand out but to fit in), and I felt a little more empathetic.
Perhaps an indie distributor will end up buying Being Charlie — it struck me an interesting fit for A24, which has released other films about teenage angst, such as 2012’s Ginger and Rosa and 2013’s The Spectacular Now and The Bling Ring, and could probably sell this one to a similar audience in the same way, as well as to an older crowd by pushing Rob’s name and perhaps the Reiner-Elwes reunion. If that was to happen, and it was to be released this year, I think it has enough appeal to land a nom or two at the Gotham or Indie Spirit awards — for Robinson and/or the screenplay, which Nick wrote with Matt Elisofon. (I was also impressed with the smaller contributions of Morgan Saylor, best known as Brody’s daughter on Homeland, as Charlie’s fellow addict and love interest, and the Oscar-winning rapper Common as one of his drug counselors.)
But even if things do not pan out that way, it’s nice to think that the Reiner family, which has brought so much happiness to so many others, is perhaps a little happier itself because the film was made.
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