Being Charlie **1/2

A good enough drama that, thankfully, shows some restraint.

Is it worth $10? Yes
“Write what you know” is a saying that’s hammered into every scriptwriting student’s head in film school. And that’s exactly what Nick Reiner and Matt Elisofon did when they co-wrote “Being Charlie.” It’s a small, personal film based on their experiences staying at treatment clinics, battling substance abuse. I wish I could call it a hidden gem, but it’s not quite that good. The steady hand of a veteran director and the writer’s attention to detail, based on their first-hand experiences, elevate the film, though. It’s not great, but pretty good.

The film isn’t plot heavy. Rather, it’s situational, following the eponymous Charlie (Nick Robinson) as he attempts to make it through another stint in rehab and deal with his family and friends, or better, as they deal with him and his cycles of self-destruction. Much of the film’s tension comes from Charlie’s relationship with his father (Cary Elwes), a famous actor running for governor of California. Charlie isn’t sure if his father mandates his rehab stints because his dad loves him or if he’s more worried that a drug-addicted son could hamper his chances of winning the election.

Rob Reiner, Nick Reiner’s father, directed “Being Charlie,” and one cannot argue with his body of work. Starting with 1984’s “This Is Spinal Tap,” Reiner made a string of films that are as beloved today as they were upon release, maybe even more so; it’s a string that runs through such titles as “Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “A Few Good Men.” All are disparate films, but their quality and the man behind the camera unite them. 

That hot streak was marred by “North,” a film so bad that noted critic Roger Ebert famously declared in print, “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie.” For about a decade, it seemed as if Reiner could do no wrong, but “North” proved that he could. Sadly, he kept proving that for the second half of his career, which is a kind of warped funhouse mirror to the first half, filled with one forgettable dud after another. And that brings us back to “Being Charlie,” which, as noted above, is not great, but it still ends up being one of the best things he’s done in a while.

As with most directors, Reiner’s success is tied to the strength of the script. And “Being Charlie” has a pretty good script. With it, Reiner manages to eschew some formula and cliché, for the most part. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of this before: the angry, misunderstood protagonist who mouths off in group therapy, the fellow addict who happens to be a pretty girl and a potential girlfriend (Morgan Saylor), and the funny, sarcastic best friend with issues of his own (Devon Bostick). But these well-worn clichés are handled with remarkable restraint by both the writers and director, which gives the film a bit of elegance and makes it feel a little less rote. And in some cases, like with the potential girlfriend, it doesn’t quite go where you might expect it to. 

Thankfully, the film also never spills over into histrionics. While there are dark and sad moments and more than a few confrontations, none feel over the top and repetitive. They’re given enough weight to have the dramatic effect needed without overdoing it. It also helps that most, if not all, of the characters are written with a nice amount of empathy.

But these accolades still don’t add up to a great film. There are a lot of little things that make it good, but very little I can point to that is truly great. There’s just nothing exceptional or revelatory in the movie.

What is revelatory about “Being Charlie” is that it proves Rob Reiner isn’t on autopilot anymore. Hopefully it will be a springboard into bigger and better things for him. He needs to be connected to the material, and with a personal film like this, written by his son no less, that seems to have happened. While it still doesn’t result in greatness, it’s a step in the right direction. Mr. Reiner, I liked this movie. Liked liked liked liked liked this movie…but nothing more. 

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