As Rob Reiner pointed out during his introduction at the world premiere of Being Charlie, it’s a very personal film for him. His son Nick Reiner struggled with a drug addiction and co-wrote the story with ex-addict Matt Elisofon. It is abundantly clear that this is a heartfelt, cathartic project for the group, but unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll touch outsiders as well.
Being Charlie stars Nick Robinson as the title character. One would think he’s got it made as a bright teenager with wealthy parents, but Charlie’s also an extremely self-destructive drug addict. At the start of the film, he’s in a rehab facility but opts to cut out early, hoping his parents will take him back in. Trouble is, his dad (Cary Elwes), a famous actor-turned-wannabe politician, is running for governor and he isn’t about to let Charlie’s antics ruin his chances of winning so force Charlie back into rehab. However, this time, before he can quit and ditch, he strikes up a relationship with another teen at the facility, Eva (Morgan Saylor), inspiring him to stick it out and complete the program with her.
One of many problems with Being Charlie is that it doesn’t offer any new insight into what it’s like living in in-patient and out-patient rehab facilities. They have meetings during which some participants are more willing to share than others, group leaders often spew out used and abused motivational speeches, there’s loads of teen angst, rebellion and more. Reiner never goes beyond a surface level representation of life in rehab and it makes the movie feel more like a long PSA rather than a compelling character journey.
Robinson is serviceable as Charlie, but again, there’s just nothing for him to sink his teeth into. He’s either breaking the rules or following them. Not only is there no in-between, but there’s also little to no transition from one to the other. One moment Charlie despises his father and refuses to stay in rehab, but the next, he meets Eva and does a complete turnaround in an instant. Reiner doesn’t even bother to explore their budding relationship and why their connection is special enough to compel Charlie to finally change his ways. Eva and Charlie have their first conversation and then suddenly we fast forward through the in-patient portion of the story via a montage sequence.
When things finally slow down again and Charlie makes the move into an out-patient sober living home, he gets a lecture from the head of the facility (Common) who warns him that relationships with other patients are forbidden. That should be a major issue but it doesn’t feel like it because we barely got to see the growth of Charlie and Eva’s romance, and also because later on, no one even bothers to enforce that rule. Again, there’s nothing wrong with Saylor’s performance but, as written, Eva’s just one big plot device. Her intentions are never clear and she gets hot and cold in a flash, so she’s impossible to track. Eva’s behavior does give Charlie’s arc some forward momentum, but there’s no depth or coherence to her own.
Then we’ve got Charlie’s family. This portion of the film had the most potential, but it winds up being the weakest due to illogical behavior and overacting. Just like Eva, Charlie’s father is always one of two extremes. For the most part, he’s painted as the film’s villain, someone who’s willing to lie and ruin his son’s life to protect his own budding political career. This could have sparked an especially interesting family dynamic, especially with Charlie’s mother (Susan Misner) caught between supporting her husband and supporting her son, but like most other components of the film, this scenario plays out in a very surface level, predictable fashion.
Reiner runs into a good deal of trouble in the technical department as well. There’s really no consistency to the visuals and there are a number of instances where unmotivated camera movements feel so unnatural that they take you out of the film. Overall, Being Charlie is just an underdeveloped idea. There’s no shot progression, just coverage, and countless plot points that the movie doesn’t earn or that go absolutely nowhere. Being Charlie does manage to strike an emotional chord, but not because it’s a moving character journey, but rather because you know why Reiner made it. I may not have been actively rooting for Charlie to pull himself together, but the thought of Nick Reiner overcoming such an enormous challenge and then his family coming together to make this movie still left me with a full heart.
Click here for all of our TIFF 2015 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below:
- 45 Years
- Black Mass
- The Danish Girl
- Green Room
- I Smile Back
- The Iron Giant: Signature Edition
- Kill Your Friends
- The Lobster
- The Martian
- Men & Chicken
- Where to Invade Next