September 14, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Review: “Being Charlie”


Sadly, the phrase “BEING CHARLIE is Rob Reiner’s best film in years” doesn’t mean nearly as much as it once would have.  After a decade where he could do no wrong, he has, incredibly enough, been in the Hollywood wilderness for twenty years now, churning out flops like The Story of Us, Alex and Emma, Flipped, The Magic of Belle Isle and And So It Goes.  (The charitable might want to give him credit for The Bucket List, a bad movie that made some money.)  Being Charlie, a very uneven piece of work, won’t bring him back, but at least it engages with a story that at times resembles real life, which is something Reiner hasn’t done since the 20th Century ended.

There’s probably a reason for the change.  The script for Being Charlie is by Nick Reiner, Rob’s son, and Matt Elisofon, and it’s somewhat autobiographical, telling the story of a son of privilege (the dad, played by Cary Elwes, is a famous Hollywood star who has turned Scharzeneggerianly to California political office, rather than a famous Hollywood director active in liberal politics), who’s spent most of his teen years in rehab.  The story kicks off with Charlie’s (Nick Robinson) 18th birthday at such an institution, and his escape, only to be put by his parents into another as a last-ditch attempt to get him sober, an attempt that coincides with his father’s gubernatorial race.

This first half of the movie is solid, presumably reflecting the writers’ real experiences in rehab.  None of it is especially original–viewers of “prestige TV” have spent so much time in AA meetings in recent years that we sometimes feel like we deserve chips–but the Reiners and Elisofon keep things straightforward and relatively unsentimental, and the story is well-paced and convincing.  Robinson is a charismatic lead, and Ricardo Chavira and Common are strong as the heads of the programs Charlie is forced to attend.

All through that first half, though, there is the relentless feeling of pieces being loaded into place for obvious detonation in the second, and any hope that the filmmakers are going to dodge the upcoming cliches and take us somewhere different are for naught.  Charlie’s relationships with Eva (Morgan Saylor), a troubled young woman he meets in rehab, and with his one and only friend (so it seems) on the outside, Adam (Devon Bostick)–these arcs go exactly where you’d expect in a story that feels it has to tell us, Less Than Zero style, that Drugs Are Bad.  Worse yet is the final act, very possibly a section of great emotional importance to the Reiners, since it concentrates on the father-son relationship, but one that rarely hits a convincing emotional note.  One of Reiner’s great failings during these years of flops has been his weakness for sappiness, and after resisting it early on, he jumps into it with both feet toward the end.

Being Charlie is more a sign of promise than anything else.  For the younger Reiner and his partner, there is some welcome nasty wit amid the familiar passages; for dad, an indication that he’s still able to provide a crisp, professional job of directing that doesn’t feel dipped in syrup.  None of them fully deliver here, but careers, like rehab, have to be taken one movie at a time.  It feels as though Rob Reiner has completed the first step or two, at least, of a comeback, and that’s something.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."