Written and directed by Pamela Romanowsky, The Adderall Diaries is based on Stephen Elliott’s memoir that shares the same name. Writer Stephen Elliot, played by James Franco, has to go through an unconvincing journey from drug addiction and self-affliction to confront his guilt-ridden past and to forgive his abusive father. (PS: 1.5/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Peier Shen
James Franco plays a masochistic, pill popping, Truman Capote wannabe in Pamela Romanowsky’s debut feature, The Adderall Diaries. This role marks one of many of Mr. Franco’s attempts at portraying a deeply troubled and emotionally stunted middle-aged man wrestling with what we can only assume to be profound and universal to mankind. Yet once again, the affectatious pain of this creatively blocked writer, more like boxing in a tutu, can be best described as cute if not a bit pathetic.
“Stephen” (James Franco) becomes a semi-celebrated literary figure for his unapologetic autobiography that documents years of his father’s abuse. Life seems all fun and games until his father, “Neil Elliott” (Ed Harris) whom he proclaimed dead in his book, suddenly shows up at his reading. As major publishing houses start to question Stephen’s credibility, the writer also begins to examine his own memories as he catches a high-profile murder case on TV. Yes, the plot is dense, packed with possibilities for serendipity, yet that potential is never achieved.
Indeed, even though Mr. Franco should be always commended for his ardent support for young and upcoming female directors, Ms. Romanowsky, a recent NYU film graduate, appears unsure and overwhelmed handling a heavy narrative that holds multiple threads. That being said, all the subplots, instead of poetically resonating with each other, become glaring nuisances. The unsophisticated use of flashbacks always wavers between revealing too much and not saying anything at all. The produced fragments that awkwardly attach to one another, like a lanky, pimple-headed teen trying to make a move on his date, fail to make any impression on the audience.
This lack of attraction between the audience and the film speaks to the often bored and unsexy couple on screen. Despite that both Mr. Franco and Ms. Heard are notable for their sexual appeals in real life, Stephen’s romantic dalliance with the young female journalist, “Lana Edmond” (Amber Heard) seems more like an after thought. As they uncomfortably grope each other in bed or in a tiny bathtub and fumble with S&M, we have to concede that maybe Fifty Shades of Grey is an undervalued aphrodisiac.
Romanowsky’s portrayal of her only main female character is regretfully one-dimensional. Lana functions more or less as another symptom that Stephen really just cannot get along with anyone. And her job description at the New York Times includes challenging tasks such as imitating Kristen Stewart’s teenage moodiness in Twilight, standing half-naked, taking notes for her boyfriend, handing them to him, and crying because she is a girl with good values.
The artistic style of the film has a standard Sundance-aspiring look with shallow depth of field, slow motion, and an interesting tilted shot in the tunnel that reminds the audience of another similar looking one in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The film also includes some home footage, grainy and a bit tungsten, does evoke a warm and nostalgic feeling. However, such sincerity created is soon defeated by an overtly contrived wistful look in the flashes that again fails to strike a chord. The hipsterish instanx film inspired aesthetic is reminiscent of our artsy period in college after shopping in the camera section of Urban Outfitters.
The Adderall Diaries, perhaps ironically, lacks focus. The film that is about pain and to heal with noble sentiments such as love, is ultimately painless and loveless.
© Peier Shen FF2 Media (5/15/16)
Top Photo: The Adderall Diaries poster.
Middle Photo: Neil surprises Stephen at his reading.
Bottom Photo: Stephen and Lana share an intimate moment.
Photo Credits: Anna Kooris and Ali Goldstein
Q: Does The Adderall Diaries pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
The lives of all the women in this movie revolve around our leading-man.