Being Charlie - spoiler free review
When you think of Hollywood dynasties you might not think of the Reiners. The Sheen/Esteves family maybe, The Coppolas, The Douglases, The Howards but not The Reiners.
Many might know that Rob Reiner directed When Harry Met Sally but how many, of today's audience, would know that his Dad, Carl Reiner, Directed The Jerk, or the same man was the old guy in Ocean's Eleven, or that he wrote and worked with Mel Brooks many moons ago?
I wonder, in fact, that while film fans may know, casual movie goers, or people under 30, might not realise that Rob Reiner was the guy behind This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride and A Few Good Men? His company, Castle Rock Entertainment, helped produce Seinfeld and he starred in All In the Family on US Television! But maybe you do and I am being presumptuous.
Anyway, why all this talk of family and history? you maybe wondering, well Rob Reiner's latest directorial effort, Being Charlie, was written by and is sort of based on the life of his son Nick Reiner, with his friend Matt Elisofon. Also the film is all about family, in its own way, and much like the weight the lead character might feel, with a legacy like the Reiner's, Nick Reiner has a lot to live up to.
The subject matter of the film is tricky to do right. It is about the drug addict son of a famous movie actor, who once had a string of hit pirate films and is now running for governor of California, who goes through the teenage trials and tribulations of addiction, rehab, first love, his father's fame and more.
The part of the famous father is played brilliantly by Cary Elwes, with just a few nods to the fact he played Wesley (also the Dread Pirate Roberts) in Rob Reiner's beloved comedy, fantasy The Princess Bride.
Incredible though that in this day and age of the internet, 24hr news, Entertainment news and a million and one glossy, lie filled and rumour fuelled magazines, that the struggles of the Reiner family, with their son's drug addiction, was not widely known until they, themselves, acknowledged it and dealt with it on film in such an open, honest way.
So, the reason I said the subject matter was tricky was not because it deals with drug addiction - both amongst the rich enough to afford cosy rehabs, the people court appointed to attend rehab and also, a little, on the reality of street drug use - but because it deals with the privileged son of an affluent and famous family doing drugs, mouthing off and avoiding anything resembling responsibility. It would be very easy and, I'm sure some critics have, to write off the whole thing as being about a spoilt brat who just needs a good clip round the ear and his unlikable friends and family. As the film rattles on, I'm sure this will cross your mind a couple of times.
On a personal note, too, I find films that deal with addiction a little frustrating because of the frequency with which characters you grow to root for and like, go back to the pointless habit they know is killing them and destroying their family.
Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas probably did the best job with the subject matter, in my opinion and I also found Kevin Smith's account of his friend Jay Mewes's struggle with addiction equally informative, frustrating and heartbreaking. It is effective though, of course, because if it was your friend or family member that kept acting like this, you'd be frustrated too. It is this frustration that allows you to empathise with the parents in Being Charlie.
So yes, why should you care about this story about a rich kid and his rich parents going through the trials of drug abuse? well, firstly, it's because the story isn't really about their wealth, it's about the people and you should be able to recognise and empathise with these characters just because you don't own a beach house and you're not running for governor. Secondly, in places, it's funny, biting and critical of the system in a way that the best stand-up is. Lastly it is acted very well, across the board, by all the main players.
Nick Robinson as Charlie has the bulk of the heavy lifting and does his very best to straddle the line between annoying, bratty tearaway and young, lost, angry, confused and upset addict. He is assisted by having all the best lines in the script. Making the character a stand-up fan, who ultimately might find his redemption in stand-up, felt a little crow-barred in, even if it was true. It seemed to, sometimes, shift the story away from being an examination of the rehab system, and a family going through it, into more of a lifetime movie biopic of a struggling stand-up.
I am not sure why, especially when some of it is true - co-writer Matt Elisofon was dragged off stage during a rehab talent show for doing stand-up critical of the program (a scene mirrored in the film) - that it felt a little disingenuous and too convenient in the movie.
That being said, the dialogue, back n forth and social/political observations made by the characters, that sounded like stand-up routines, were great and some of the moments I liked most in the film.
Originally envisioned as a TV Pilot/Show, the script, and even the production, does occasionally feel like that and hints at its TV origins. Also, I felt, that much needed character development, which, ironically would've been expanded had it been a TV project, was buried in a rushed montage of rehab life. The biggest casualty here is the love story, which at one point of the film is driving the plot along and looks to be, partly, the characters redemption, but then, is entirely abandoned. Again, this may be real and it may be how it happens in life but in a film, it feels odd and empty.
There is a possibility that, while very brave and open for the father son team of Rob and Nick Reiner to make Being Charlie, they might have been just a little close to the subject matter and focused on the film as therapy. Maybe the script in the hands of someone else might have yielded a deeper, more interesting examination of the problem. I also wonder what a director, more adept at handling the seedier, street side of the drug story might have made of the second half of the film. However, just like singer songwriters drawing from what they know and what they have experienced to write their songs, the personal, intimate and honest nature of this movie about family, by a family, is entirely justified and has to be accepted, simply, as the story they wanted to tell.
I can't, wholeheartedly, recommend Being Charlie, because it feels a little too much like a first script you might write, you might even make into a student film but then you would go on to write a better second or third script and they might get made into an actual feature.
Being the son of Rob Reiner and being a story they both want to tell, while also working out their own issues and relationship, means that the film gets made. While I do applaud that, it did hold my attention, the script has some interesting, sharp moments and it's performed well, as a film, on the whole though, it is not fully successful. Mainly because its focus is never quite on the same thing long enough or deep enough, for my tastes.
It's worth a watch, I think, if you are either a big Rob Reiner fan, if your family or someone you know has gone through something like this or if, in general, you just like small, intimate, coming-of-age stories. It has a lot to offer and I am sure that Nick Reiner's second or third script might be the one to watch.
Being Charlie hits theatres on May 6th