‘Being Charlie’: TIFF Review

A film that was probably more therapeutic to make than it is to watch.

Nick Robinson stars as a rehab resident in Rob Reiner's latest, scripted by the director's own son Nick Reiner and Matt Elisofon.

Nick Robinson(Jurassic World) plays a young man from a wealthy, film-industry family struggling with drug addiction and profound daddy issues in Being Charlie, a comedy-drama that's neither especially funny nor moving. The movie's unique selling point is that it marks a collaboration between real-life father and son team Rob and Nick Reiner, director and co-screenwriter respectively, who clearly used this as a way to work through how 22-year-old Nick Reiner's own drug problems affected their family. But however much one might applaud the Reiner family for sharing like this, honesty and good intentions don't compensate for the mediocrity of the work, sadly making it but the latest in a growing line of duds (see And So It Goes, Rumor Has It, etc.) from Reiner Sr. Still unsold to a US distributor by the time it premiered in Toronto, Being Charlie looks destined for VOD lockdown.

The film's production notes layout with admirable frankness how Nick Reiner and co-screenwriter Matt Elisofon met at rehab facility some four odd years ago, and started working on this project with an eye towards creating a TV series based on the people and events they witnessed in recovery. Unfortunately, the early drafts were, per Elisofon, "pretty bad." Presumably they've had enough advice, guidance and input along the way to produce this, a shooting script that's not by any means a total shocker. Nevertheless, the edges are still plenty rough, with only half-developed characters floating about, thick chunks of dialog that sound like boilerplate drama-therapy exercises, and a lead protagonist who's not nearly as sympathetic or interesting as the filmmakers seemingly think he is.

First met dourly celebrating his eighteenth birthday in a Utah rehab facility, Charlie Mills (Robinson) is the son of David Mills (Cary Elwes, from Reiner's The Princess Bride), a Hollywood star famous for his role in a long-running, unnamed pirate-themed franchise, who's now running for governor of California. Having reached the age of majority, Charlie's first move is to bust out and head back to Los Angeles, calling his best friend and favorite drug buddy Adam (Devon Bostick, giving an MVP performance) to come pick him up in Barstow.

Once he arrives as the family's Bel-Air mansion, however, David's mother Liseanne (Susan Misner) and his father are already waiting with another drug counselor, ready to send him straight away to yet another facility. It's obvious David is motivated not purely by paternal concern but also by the need to minimize Charlie's scandal-creating potential during the campaign; Liseanne's love for her son is less conditional although, as a late, frustratingly sketchy scene suggests, she may have her own problems with addiction.

The middle act rings with the most lived-in authenticity as Charlie begrudgingly slogs his way through AA meetings and endless rounds of group, equine, and yoga therapy, surrounded by a colorful but plausible gallery of fellow addicts. Foremost among them is Eva (Morgan Saylor, the sulky daughter from Homeland), a spiky teen alcoholic with whom Charlie sparks romantically. Their ill-fated relationship serves as a primer showing why affairs between recovering addicts are so often discouraged by counselors. But, once again, the film misses a trick when it fails to resolve what happens to her character by the end, as if it just wants to get the whole thing over and done with.

In the end, Being Charlie biggest problem is tonality, and it's all-too tempting to read into it two warring agendas, aligned neatly with the father and son positions expressed therein. The son/addict side wants to skewer some of the pieties of the rehab orthodoxy, sometimes with callow cynicism, and to point out that recovery is a long, grinding process that never magically ends. The dad viewpoint, on the other hand, is all about seeking closure, making everything all better and moving on to some elusive next stage where life can resume as normal once a handily cathartic rock-bottom has been endured. But the two angles are not so easily reconciled by final-reel hugs and glib one-liners.

Some viewers might find that very cognitive dissonance interesting in itself, but many others may struggle to connect with a story that's essentially about an assortment of extremely entitled, self-absorbed people who ultimately have little new to say about addiction, families or the process of recovery.


Production companies: A Jorva Entertainment Productions presentation, in association with Defiant Pictures of a Castle Rock Entertainment production
Cast: Nick Robinson, Morgan Saylor, Devon Bostick, Cary Elwes, Susan Misner, Common, Ricardo Chavira
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenwriters: Nick Reiner, Matt Elisofon
Producer: Rob Reiner, Johnson Chan, Stephanie Rennie, Simon Goldberg
Executive producers: Lucas Jarach, J. Vincent Reppert, Alan Greisman, Nicolas Veinberg, Blythe Frank, Tamanna Shah, Douglas Shaffer, Lisa Reppert, Charles Arthur Berg, Jack Meredith
Director of photography: Barry Markowitz
Editor: Bob Joyce
Production designer: Christopher R. Demuri
Costume designer: Carolyn Leone
Composer: Chris Bacon
Casting: Jane Jenkins
Sales: Creative Artists Agency

No rating, 97 minutes