“Being Charlie” is a teen addiction drama directed by industry vet Rob Reiner and co-written by his son Nick Reiner. In a story that deals with the struggles of addiction and the idea that one has to want help before he or she can get it, this movie actually transcends the cliches and tropes of this particular type of movie by being both completely unpretentious and very clear about the story and characters and how they progress from beginning to end. A story like this could easily fall into “after school special” territory, but here it is a fully realized and emotionally true tale of tough love, hard choices and dangerous living.
Charlie Mills (Nick Robinson) starts the movie by turning 18 years old while in a youth drug rehab program somewhere in Utah, and he uses his newly acquired legal status as an adult to walk out of that place. He hitchhikes back to Los Angeles to go home to his parents, and along the way manages to steal some pain pills and get fucked up, so we know right away that the drug rehab program did not work for him. Making matters worse is his best friend Adam (Devon Bostick) who picks him up at a bus stop to take him home, and Adam himself is a heavy drug user and hence an enabler, so while he says he wants to help Charlie and provide support, he also provides thinks like other drugs, and even giving a joint to an addict can cause an avalanche of problems. Also his parents want to help, but his father (Cary Elwes), a movie star turned politician, is in the midst of a campaign for governor of California, so he’s just trying to keep the full extent of his son’s problems under wraps, which means coercing him to enter an adult rehab facility. At this facility, Charlie meets a fellow troubled youth named Eva (Morgan Saylor), and while they manage to hit it off, the nature of their confinement and their respective issues makes their relationship just that much more complicated.
“Being Charlie” is a strong movie because it manages to capture not only the constant struggle of being an addict – the cravings, the relapses, the fear of relapsing, the disappointment of letting others down – but it also shows how that struggle affects other people. Charlie’s parents argue how best to approach this problem, Charlie’s best bud feels bad for him but also doesn’t help him in the proper way, even people Charlie just met find themselves affected by his addiction pretty quickly and they respond in different ways, ranging from anger to pity. And this movie never judges Charlie or anyone else around him, but instead just shows us how something like this can happen, how someone with plenty of opportunity and support can still end up on the streets, trying to score, getting mugged, and just generally having a rough go at it. We can choose to look down on Charlie when he refuses help, or we can pity him, but that is our decision to make, just like it is the decision of the people around him.
A movie like this relies heavily on both its story and actors, so the fact that they nailed both is what makes this work. Rob Reiner’s been around the block and he’s directed more than his fair share of cinematic classics, and with “Being Charlie” he is obviously smart enough to let the characters and story do the work, he keeps it simple and straightforward and allows the drama to take center stage and it is a very welcome return to good filmmaking from the guy who helped shaped the 1980s with movies like “The Princess Bride,” “Stand By Me,” “This is Spinal Tap” and “When Harry Met Sally.” The depictions of addicts and addiction, the different approaches to dealing with addicts, the different ways addicts try to help each other and themselves, the crushing disappointment when a fellow rehab resident drops out, this all rings very true and comes across as genuine and accurate. There is some real pain and loss in this story, and it must come from a real place, which is why it doesn’t feel like overly dramatic pandering horseshit, and every actor from lead Nick Robinson on down through the rest of the call sheet just nails their performances, breathing life into these sharply drawn roles. Even when we think a character is going to remain one-dimensional the whole movie, they open up and reveal something about themselves that just feels right in that moment, and it makes “Being Charlie” a richer narrative.
Without a central hook or easy to sell concept, I don’t know how well “Being Charlie” will make the rounds, or if it will end up going straight to streaming video services where it will have to struggle to get noticed among all the other riff-raff, but this is a definitely a strong drama worthy of being seen and would surely be appreciated by most people who see it and recognize the real pain as well as the earnest hopefulness that makes this a memorable movie.