Cinema Review: The Adderall Diaries | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, August 6th, 2020  

The Adderall Diaries

Studio: A24
Directed by Pamela Romanowsky

Apr 13, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Pamela Romanowsky’s adaptation of The Adderall Diaries, loosely based on Stephen Elliot’s memoir slash true-crime hybrid of the same title, is disjointed and feels incomplete. In it, James Franco—he knows Romanowsky from NYU’s M.F.A. program and hired her to write and direct the film—plays Elliot, a contemporary writer on the upswing of his career, who has built his success (mostly) upon true stories of abuse he suffered from his father. Though he has a contract for his next book—a collection of short stories—he finds himself fascinated by a high profile murder trial and decides to write about that, instead. Amid it all, Elliot develops a tumultuous relationship with a New York Times reporter, struggles with writer’s block, and grapples with the reemergence of his father (played by Ed Helms), whom he has the world convinced is dead. The chaos and stress of too much at once cause Elliot to turn back to drugs (namely, Adderall), which had been a major cause of his frayed familial relationships.

As it might sound, there’s a lot going on in the film, which despite the overabundance of themes and plotlines, clocks in at just under 90-minutes. None of the parts manage to coalesce into a coherent whole; rather, much of the film comes across as tacked on or tenuously related, at best. The headline murder case—Christian Slater has perhaps ten minutes of screen time as Hans Reiser, a Silicon Valley programmer accused of killing his wife in 2008—is an extremely weak tangent. It has next to no impact on or connection to the film. Romanowsky tries to highlight how Reiser’s testimony forces Elliot to recall his relationship with his own father, but it’s a poor attempt at relevance. The same goes for Elliot’s relationship with the reporter, which he denies occurred in real life. All seems well between them, until, somewhat inexplicably, it isn’t. The best explanation Romanowsky offers is that Elliot’s penchant for kink in the bedroom drove his paramour away. Elliot doesn’t deny BDSM tendencies in real life, but in the film, those proclivities are too underdeveloped to serve as any sort of rational or plot impetus. And so it goes for an hour and a half—Romanowsky attempts too much, and winds up succeeding in very little. (Also, if you blink, you’ll miss Wilmer Valderrama, 99% of whose presence in the film must have wound up on the cutting room floor.)

Full disclosure: I haven’t read The Adderall Diaries, but I don’t feel as though I should have to in order to appreciate the film. In fact, Stephen Elliot had a similar reaction. In a piece he wrote for Vulture last April after seeing the film for the first time, Elliot—who had no involvement in the production (beyond selling rights to his work) and was barred from the set—wrote, “what I saw rattled me. What I saw was a very different Stephen Elliott than the person I believe myself to be, and it made me question some of my fundamental beliefs about art.” He derided the film’s deviation from his experiences, book, and life, which he claimed were so extreme that they made him question “why calling the character Stephen Elliott was necessary.” I go one step further and doubt whether the film itself was necessary. 

a24films.com/films/adderall-diaries

Author rating: 4/10

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