The Adderall Diaries (2015)

  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance | Thriller
  • Director: Pamela Romanowsky
  • Cast: James Franco, Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Wilmer Valderrama, Christian Slater


As a writer stymied by past success, writers block, substance abuse, relationship problems and a serious set of father issues, Elliott’s cracked-out chronicle of a bizarre murder trial amounts to less than the sum of its parts. Not long into the 2007 trial of programmer Hans Reiser, accused of murdering his wife, the defendant’s friend Sean Sturgeon obliquely confessed to several murders (though not the murder of Reiser’s wife). Elliott, caught up in the film-ready twist and his tenuous connection to Sturgeon (they share a BDSM social circle), makes a gonzo record of the proceedings. The result is a scattered, self-indulgent romp through the mind of a depressive narcissist obsessed with his insecurities and childhood traumas.

One comment

  • “We understand the world by how we retrieve memories; re-order information into stories to justify how we feel.” Stephen Elliott’s quote opens the film adaptation of The Adderall Diaries. Subtitled a “Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder,” Elliott’s true crime memoir was a tangled sprawl of often imagined memories masquerading as truth. Its adaptation, written and directed by first-timer Pamela Romanowsky, manages to condense its source material into a more conventional coherence but the overall execution is numbingly lackluster.

    The ever prolific James Franco stars as Elliott, who is basking in the success of his memoir, a lauded chronicle of childhood abuse, homelessness, and drug addiction. Things soon take a turn for the worse. Elliott is crippled by writer’s block soon after securing a lucrative publishing deal. Even more damaging, his father Neil (Ed Harris) – whose death he noted in the pages of his memoir – turns up very much alive and well at one of Elliott’s book readings to refute his son’s claims of his negligent and abusive parenting. The fallout is immediate: the publishing deal is retracted and his career is on life support unless he can resuscitate it with concrete proof that his written word is indeed fact and not fiction.

    Meanwhile, Elliott becomes obsessed with the trial of Hans Reiser (Christian Slater), a husband and father accused of killing his wife after losing custody of his children. “We’re all victims of our fathers,” Elliott notes in case still-interested viewers failed to comprehend the parallels between this murder case and Elliott’s own family history. Elliott sees both himself and his father in Reiser, and he reasons that he may understand something more about himself and his father by delving deep into Reiser’s situation. Elliott also senses Reiser’s story becoming his professional salvation – after all, didn’t Truman Capote and Norman Mailer wander in the creatively fallow wilderness before crafting their true crime masterpieces, In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song respectively?

    The case also introduces Elliott to Lana Edmond (Amber Heard), an attractive reporter covering the trial for The New York Times. They predictably become romantically involved, with Elliott soon introducing her to his more masochistic sexual proclivities. The film, rarely in the realm of lucidity, sharpens into focus during these exchanges, which provide a certain insight into how pain can be made into pleasure (an insight obscured by the more stylised heavy breathing of Fifty Shades of Grey). However, this is soon sabotaged by a highly clumsy and ridiculous scene in which Elliott declares his love for Lana after he encourages her to nearly choke him to death. To be fair, very few people could have sold this scene even with an expert director guiding them, so one can’t entirely fault Franco and Romanowsky.

    Heard turns in a lovely performance that proves she can do more than vamp onscreen, though Romanowsky does her character no favours by having her straddle a motorbike in the same fashion as Michael Bay had Megan Fox bending over the hood of a car in Transformers. Harris bellows whilst Franco is once again on the verge of catatonia. It makes for dispiriting viewing, considering the film’s narrative had such potential to explore how we spin our own stories using both truth and imagination.

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