James Franco doesn’t shy away from the indie scene at all. As a matter of fact, based on his movie choices over the last several years, he seems to be drawn to those types of roles. On the plus side to this trend, audiences are treated to the many shades of James Franco. On the negative side to this trend, audiences again are treated to the many shades of James Franco. You just never know what kind of enjoyment you’re going to get from his performance. He’s all over the place. Clearly he’s a talented actor but sometimes, maybe, his reach exceeds the overall scope of the project he’s working on. And speaking of projects he’s working on (or worked on recently), according to his IMDb page Franco has 32 different listings spanning 2015 and 2016. He continues to put himself out there. The Adderall Diaries is one of these selections and we have the skinny on it.
Stephen (James Franco) is a writer. Stephen is a victim. Stephen is an enabler. Stephen is a drug abuser. Stephen has problems. That’s the short and skinny of The Adderall Diaries right there. To go into a bit more detail though I’ll start here. Stephen is a published author that focuses on subjects that he’s had personal experience with. A rough childhood via the untimely death of his mother, a physically and mentally abusive father, hanging with friends that are willing to walk lockstep towards a path of various illicit actions and, of course, drug abuse.
While constantly dealing with the demons of his past, Stephen is hard pressed to find the “spiritual motivation” need for time produce his next novel. With his editor (Cynthia Nixon) constantly in his ear to produce, Stephen is feeling the pressure and angst to get a story rolling. Stephen hopes that an ongoing highly publicized trial involving a husband (Christian Slater) accused of murdering his estranged wife will give him that jolt of inspiration that he’s so desperately in search of. It is in this pursuit that many facets of Stephen’s past and present come to a head.
Let’s start with actor contributing here aside from James Franco, Cynthia Nixon and Christian Slater. Those names include Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Jim Parrack and Wilmer Valderrama. Harris (The Abyss (1989), The Rock (1996)) is the father that Stephen wishes he never had. Heard (The Rum Diary (2011)) catches the eye of Stephen and, due to his addictive personality, he can’t get enough of her. Both Parrack (True Blood) and Valderrama (That 70’s Show) are friends from Stephen’s teenage days. With all of these people attached it should come as little surprise that some of these faces don’t get as much camera time as we’d hope.
The ringleader of all of this talent is director Pamela Romanowsky. It is worth noting that this The Adderall Diaries is only Romanowsky’s second project as director. Her first, The Color of Time (2012), also starred James Franco. As a matter of fact, it is because of that previous relationship between the two that led to this collaboration. Franco approached her regarding adapting Stephen Elliot’s memoir into a screenplay and feature film. Romanowsky jumped at the opportunity and here we are. She’s a bit out of her depth here and it shows. Having a short runtime of only 87 minutes makes it a challenge to squeeze everything intended. I’m a fan of trimming the fat when needed but I can’t help but wonder if overzealous editing left meaningful parts on the cutting room floor.
The Adderall Diaries is all over the place and is maddening at times to try to follow. There are endless flashbacks and no warning that they’re coming. This causes viewers to feel off balance throughout, not knowing what’s current, what’s relevant or for that matter what’s even real. Franco’s character gets lost in his thoughts often, swimming in images of rage and confusion. As we begin to get an idea of what his character is going through, there’s a certain sadness that goes along with it. Tone is far from that of a feel good movie so don’t expect to see any silly Pineapple Express (2008) glimpses of Franco. Sadly, The Adderall Diaries is quickly forgettable due to its lack of ability to fully engage its audience. Commercial success will be minimal at best. Still, if you’re looking to kill a couple of hours watching a movie you know very little about, head out to the AMC Forum 30 as it’s playing there exclusively.