James Franco gets a lot of criticism for the kinds of projects he attaches himself to. Why would one of the most talented and bankable stars of his generation attach himself to so many low-budget duds?
With his newest project, “The Adderall Diaries,” the same criticisms are bound to persist. The film, based on author Stephen Elliott’s memoirs, falls victim to bland characters and bizarre camera work.
The movie follows Stephen (James Franco) who, after an unexpected encounter with his estranged father Neil (Ed Harris), begins to question the memories of his own troubled adolescence. Suddenly unsure if his blossoming writing career was based on a lie, Stephen’s life and career falls into a downward spiral, involving drug addiction, self-inflicted sexual abuse and a unhealthy fascination with a high-profile murder trial.
Stephen and Neil’s relationship makes for one of the film’s few highlights. Whether it is bursting into violent tirades in public or Neil trying to drown his teenage son in the family bathtub, Harris nails the frightening father-figure. However, as he remembers Stephen’s troubled childhood, Harris brings an unexpected vulnerability to the role.
Like Harris, Franco’s character is also not the person he at first appears to be. At the beginning of the film, Stephen’s writing career and teaching job at Columbia University make him look stable. But as audience members learn the truth behind Stephen’s memories, the character starts to look unreliable and dangerous.
Another important – but less interesting – presence in Stephen’s life is his girlfriend Lana Edmond (Amber Heard). While Lana often shares screen time with Stephen, her character lacks depth, and she is mostly used to explore Stephen’s personal problems.
The movie reaches low points when Stephen starts begging his sexual partners to physically abuse him. Although meant to explore the psychological damage left from Stephen’s childhood, slow-motion camera work and fluorescent, colored lighting leave the scenes looking strange.
Whether it’s chopping off his own hand in “127 Hours” or getting held at gunpoint by a former Disney Channel pop star in “Spring Breakers,” Franco has made himself into one of the great punching bags of 21st century cinema. While his earlier films were engaging, the actor looks ridiculous as Stephen, begging prostitutes to put out cigarettes on his chest or rip clothing pins off his torso.
“The Adderall Diaries” offers viewers some moments of interest when Franco and Harris are on screen together exploring their characters’ complex relationship. The rest of the film, with its bland supporting characters, makes for an unsatisfying movie experience.
– Daniel Maraccini