The Adderall Diaries (2016): Fiction as Fact – (Review)

Amber Heard and James Franco

The Adderall Diaries is taken from Stephen Elliot’s semi-autobiographical first novel “A life Without Consequences” and the author is quick to point out that this was a work of fiction. Adapted and directed by Pamela Romanowsky (her second feature length film as director) the film follows Stephen Elliot, played by James Franco as he unravels while following a murder case.  The film is, according to the real Elliot, masquerading as fact even though it is based upon fiction.

Amber Heard plays Times reporter Lana Emond, that the film Stephen dates and then falls in love with. Ultimately he alienates the woman as he loses his grip on what is real and what is not.

Ed Harris is Stephen’s estranged father Neil. A man that Elliot has been telling the world is dead. His memoirs, that are on the best seller list, tell of a bullying ogre who made Stephen’s life hell growing up.

Christian Slater plays real life murderer  Hans Reiser who, in the film,  is on trial for  the murder of his mail order wife Nina.  Stephen begins to fixate  on the man and projects his own issues onto the suspect on trial.

Elliot is into BDSM, drugs (specifically Adderall) and has fractured memories of his youth.  His father Neil attempts to reconcile with his son and eventually the two start to converse.

The main message of The Adderall Diaries appears to coincide with what the author says he learned around the time of writing his first novel.  Stephen says that everyone’s version of the truth is their version [sic].  The film does, at least, put this across rather well.

In the film Franco’s Elliot is a man not in touch with himself at all. His gaze, despite being inward,  is narcissist and  blind. His faulty and drug enhanced memories are all blurry and violent. In these his father is the villain and he the innocent victim.

The author lies to everyone but more importantly he lies to himself. The man is on a self destructive path that turns those he cares about away.  Stephen irrevocably damages his relationship with Lana (Heard) and nearly ends his lifelong friendship with Roger (Jim Parrack).

(On a sidenote: Amber Heard has been lumbered with what must be the worst wig or extensions ever seen on a romantic lead. It is a wonder she did not sue the production or at least the director for putting such a mess on her head.)

Slater makes the most of his smaller role as programmer turned murderer Reiser who was convicted of killing the mother of his children. In the film his defense was that he was trying to be a good father. It feels as though he felt that his wife suffered from Munchausen by proxy syndrome (MBPS). Whether this was true for the real Reiser case is not known.

The Adderall Diaries is a fairly downbeat film.  It is slow and despite a fair amount of sex, both kinky and straight, it is a mundane film.  Another problem is that, as portrayed by Franco, Elliot is unlikeable.  When he breaks up with Lena we do not really care.

(Another sidenote: Ed Harris looked shockingly old. Granted the actor is around bus pass age at 65 but he has looked the same for years.  Perhaps it was makeup enhanced but it was a surprise to see Harris suddenly age. Whatever the case it was effective for his role and helped to sell his character’s story.)

The real Stephen Elliot has pointed out a number of inconsistencies with the film. Mainly to do with the publishing world but he says there  are a few discrepancies about his “story” as well.

For someone who lived outside the country for number of years, this fiction presented as fact film was eye opening. It was a total surprise to learn that someone whose product was integral to the Linux kernel murdered his wife for example.

Director Pamela Romanowsky does quite a decent job here but the subject matter lets the side down.  Ultimately it fails to really garner any real interest apart from the childhood story of Elliot and his father. Those flashbacks do beg to be resolved.

The Adderall Diaries is streaming on Amazon Prime at the moment and it is worth a look but definitely not two.  A 3 star film that is quite underwhelming by the end. Although it does have its moments. (Think Ed Harris here.)

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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