Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Nick Robinson, Cary Elwes, Susan Misner, Devon Bostick, Morgan Saylor, Common
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 5/6/16 (limited); 5/13/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 13, 2016
On his 18th birthday, Charlie (Nick Robinson) walks out of a rehab facility in the middle of nowhere in Utah. He could just walk away without incident. No one can stop him. His parents no longer have a legal say in the matter. No one at the facility is going to stop him. Charlie starts to walk toward the road, but before leaving the property, he turns back, picks up a rock, and throws it through a stained glass window of the facility's chapel.
Given his circumstances, we safely can assume that Charlie is self-destructive, whether he intends to be or not. The moment of outright destruction that opens the movie, though, is telling. He could have left without that final act of property damage, and nobody would have thought anything of it. That's a beat that is repeated in Being Charlie: People in recovery from addiction simply leave without much to-do. Nobody is shocked when it happens. Nobody knows where the person has gone. Every time it happens here (outside of the protagonist, obviously), we never see the person again.
It doesn't matter if the character is insignificant to the story or seemingly vital to it. Once someone leaves the program, that person might as well have disappeared from the face of the earth.
The first notable time that it happens, the person who leaves is a guy at Charlie's most recent inpatient facility. This particular man is the one who seems the most eager of the group to follow the steps, to chide a fellow addict for speaking about using heroin, and to share at meetings. In general, the guy is clearly trying to be the ideal example of a person in recovery, and then, one day, he's just gone. He becomes the subject of a story for the others to tell: the guy who, hoping that the doctor would give him painkillers, punched a concrete wall and simply walked away when he didn't get the medication he wanted.
Charlie, on the other hand, is rebellious and defiant—definitely not a shining example of how to recover. Maybe the guy who ended up punching the wall was trying so hard because it clearly wasn't working, even though he desperately wanted it to. Maybe Charlie tells the man in charge of the new facility that the whole recovery system is a scam because it's not working for him. That doesn't mean he doesn't want it to work. If he didn't want to recover, he simply could have disappeared without breaking a window and going home to his parents.
The screenplay by Nick Reiner (the son of Rob Reiner, who directed the movie) and Matt Elisofon is at its best when it simply observes the ins and outs of the recovery process. Charlie finds himself in yet another program after the incident with the stained glass window. After Charlie returns to his parents' home, his father David (Cary Elwes), a former actor who is now famous for running for governor of California, tells Charlie that there's a warrant out for his arrest in Utah.
Dad has pulled some strings—again—and convinced a judge and the facility to allow Charlie to complete a recovery program. If he does, the charges will be dropped. If he doesn't, he likely will be going to jail.
The time at the inpatient facility moves by in a flash—the first day becomes the first month becomes the second. There's a routine—group meetings, yoga sessions, visits from and meetings with family members, tell your story to get a new chip every month. When Charlie moves to an outpatient house, the routine continues, albeit with a little more freedom.
The pattern is broken up by a romance with a fellow addict named Eva (Morgan Saylor). This part of the story would be the key element in a movie that doesn't get it—a love that saves two people from addiction. Common plays the head of the house where Charlie stays, and he explains the problem with a romance during recovery without belaboring the point: Recovery is and must be selfish, because addiction is selfish. Juxtaposing that blunt but compassionate support is Charlie's mother (Susan Misner), who tries to give her child the love and encouragement of two parents.
The screenplay seems to be taking the romanticized path, but one look at Eva's face whenever Charlie offers advice or starts talking about love tells a different story. There's fear and desperation and, at times, just emptiness on her visage. At one point, Eva tells Charlie that the program isn't working. He tells her it's different this time. "It is different," she responds, and there's a moment of clear misunderstanding: He thinks it's different because they have each other now, while she realizes that he doesn't understand and probably never will.
Outside of the program, the movie stumbles considerably. Charlie's friendship with Adam (Devon Bostick) heads down a predictable route. David's gubernatorial run becomes an unnecessary source of conflict and huge distraction from what really matters. That's particularly true in the third act, when the last legs of the campaign and the election overshadow Charlie's story to the point that the entire movie loses focus. When it's merely observing, Being Charlie refuses to offer simple answers. Those subplots do just the opposite.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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