Nick Robinson plays the title role, a young man bouncing from one addiction rehab center to the next.
Nick Reiner has publicly discussed his own struggles with addiction, including multiple stays in drug rehab as a teen and even homelessness. He has filled this story with his own experiences, and the complicated relationships in the addiction rehab centers and sober houses feel authentic and lived in, with moments of dark humor and a reckoning with his own past. Also authentic scenes showing relapses and crashes as well as the immense partying that constantly calls him. Likewise, Charlie is not very believable when he plays the standard hero like James Dean-style rebel, and at his most when he indulges in more L.A.-specific behavior, particularly when he pursues his interest in becoming a standup comiedian. In one funny scene with Eva, Charlie introduces her to his family heroes Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor; giving an 18-year-old an obsession with older Baby Boomer comedians seems far fetched and unrealistic on first blush, and then you realize that’s precisely the kind of screwy quirk a kid raised by Rob Reiner might have. Robinson finalized work with the role, especially when pitted against the casually funny character Bostick, who does things like misappropriate the inscription on the gates of Auschwitz as an inspirational story line.
The movie is well-made and the direction is strong, the cinematography by Barry Markowitz nicely compelling and the script by two first-time writers is realistic. The biggest problem with the film is Charlie himself. His father, David (Cary Elwes), clearly several years into a tough-love approach toward his son’s addiction battles, is a former action-movie star nearing the middle of a close race for California governor, and his main concern for Charlie’s drug treatment is mixed up and entwined with his fear of some Charlie-centered bad press derailing his political campaign. Telling Charlie he’ll face criminal charges for his crimes in Utah unless he completes a long term recovery program, David packs him off to a last-chance facility nearby, while Charlie’s mom argues for a bit more compassion.
drug Rehab doesn’t seem so bad, either. His main issue seems to be that his father refuses to sign off on an overnight pass from the sober house so that he can do sex with his new girlfriend, Eva. It’s very hard to find any amount of empathy for him as he hurls fat slurs at some women and sexually objectifies females. He jokes at the expense of a good friend who confesses to trading sexual favors for drugs like heroin, and explodes when he doesn’t get what he thinks he deserves.
near the end of the film, Charlie experiences his true dark night of the soul, but it’s too late to redeem him. He needs his supreme entitlement checked, and no one in the film does that.
The struggle of addiction is real, but a cinematic representation that is one sided with no regard to the unexamined entitlement of its main character fails to offer deeper insight into the motivation for his addiction. Perhaps “Being Charlie” is an examination of the ways in which those addicts who have everything can still be core victims of this disease, but Charlie just isn’t a sympathetic enough vessel for the message.