3 stars

So the main lesson for filmmakers from this movie adaptation of the “creative non-fiction” novel by James Frey about his drug rehab experience is: ‘stick to what you’re good at.’ The movie is visually interesting and paced well, a credit to British director Sam Taylor-Johnson. It features a compelling, carnal lead performance by her husband, actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson. And it is completely let down by the screenplay, co-written by both of them, which other than a few choice lines is riddled with rehab-movie clichés.

“We shot the movie in twenty days!” the director marvelled to herself at the TIFF Q&A. So, second lesson for filmmakers: make sure your film is good before you start bragging about something like that. Could this crunched timeline explain why they couldn’t give the underused Charlie Hunnam an extra take to get his American accent right? Or why Juliette Lewis, an uneven actor in the best circumstances, gets the tone completely wrong for her psychotherapist character? Among the co-patient roles at the rehab centre, only Giovanni Ribisi nails it as Taylor-Johnson’s anxious, sexually compulsive roommate. Billy Bob Thornton gets a couple of those choice lines as Leonard (about whom Frey wrote a sequel of sorts to the original novel), but is otherwise also let down by the script which never manages to establish why Taylor-Johnson’s character would find this strange bird-like fellow so compelling.

Overall, a bit of a miss, but at the very least it has made me want to see more of Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I mean his work as an actor. Yeah that’s what I mean, honest.


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