The Adderall Diaries [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th July 2016).
The Film

The mystique promising new author Stephen Elliott (Interior. Leather Bar's James Franco) has built up around himself with the publication of his "memoir of abuse and survival" blows up in his face during a public reading when his supposedly dead, abusive father Neil (The Abyss' Ed Harris) confronts him and refutes his stories of being homeless and calls him "a drug addict fuck-up who wants to seem interesting and dramatic and take your money." With an advance from Penguin for an as-yet-undetermined work and the requirement of a twenty-page excerpt every month, Stephen is blocked and snorting Adderall to charge his creative batteries. Through bar buddy Josh (That '70s Show's Wilmer Valderrama), he learns of the high-profile trial of Linux file system creator Hans Reiser (True Romance's Christian Slater), who is accused of murdering his wife Nina (Laura Frost). Seeing the circumstantial case – and his belief that Reiser is sitting on some big reveal (if not whether he did it then why) – Stephen pitches it as his own In Cold Blood; but his agent Jen (Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon) is dealing with the fallout from Neil's outburst which has Penguin wanting to back out of a deal and Columbia University wanting to buy him out of a teaching contract unless Stephen can produce documented proof of his father's conviction for abuse and neglect. Sitting in on the Reiser trial, Stephen meets cute with Times writer Lana Edmond (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane's Amber Heard) who relates to Stephen because of abuse at the hands of her stepfather and enters into an intense affair with him. Lana helps Stephen obtain the court records on his case, but he is still blocked and cannot conceive of where to publish them and how to contextualize them; so Lana suggests publishing the full text of the court document in the Time with his handwritten annotations. With Stephen's deals seemingly back on track, he finds that he is still blocked and intensifies his prescription abuse and masochistic sessions with various dominatrices. Stephen initially holds back when Lana wants to fulfill the same function in their relationship, but things quickly become more intense than Lana can handle as the intense emotions bring her back to her own traumatic teenage years and she distances herself from him. When Stephen confronts Neil with the proof of his conviction, Neil – who announces that he is dying and wants to make amends – states once again that he never abused Stephen; he restrained his drug addict of a son who terrorized his new family when he was not trying to kill himself. Without Lana or blank pages to vent, he instead turns to childhood friend Roger (True Blood's Jim Parrack) – also once a drug-addicted delinquent and now a suburban dad – but even seems no longer able to humor Stephen and contradicts some of his accounts, blurting out that Stephen has a "convenient way of remembering things." Trying to separate fact from fiction in his own memories, Stephen also finds himself conflating Reiser with both the murderer everyone believes him to be or as a victim along with his son of the system and a mother who Reiser accuses of abusing his son medicinal treatment for nonexistent physical and emotional issues.

Based on the memoir by Stephen Elliott – who recently adapted and directed his earlier memoir Happy BabyThe Adderall Diaries has some interesting ideas about the way we configure (or edit) memory into narrative and cast ourselves and others in the role of victim or villain, and how we are cast in others narratives of the same or other events; however one might feel about Elliott based on the book, the film is an enervating self-indulgent exercise in technique by screenwriter/director Pamela Romanowsky (whose previous first feature was The Color of Time, a docudrama starring Franco as poet CK Williams). The structuring of Elliott's shapeless narrative into something resembling a Hollywood structure (which then underwent some free associative editing in post) sometimes stands out blatantly, with Stephen the character's third act "dark night of the soul" flitting by as painlessly for the audience as the many over-stylized flashbacks of abuse, self-mutilation, and implied rape as well as Stephen's BDSM encounters that are dull when they should be intense. Only the sequences between Franco and Harris enliven the affair, pregnant as they are with the threat of physical violence or emotional devastation as attempts to explain themselves to one another can give way to insults and accusations (however much Stephen's father tries to justify certain actions and contextualize them, he never seems to refute the idea that he blamed his son for his mother's death, and we never actually see if Stephen's behavior was triggered by the death or preceded it). The Reiser trial is pushed to the periphery of the film so much so that it is almost an irrelevance once everything else has been "resolved" to Stephen's satisfaction (nothing is mentioned in the film of the confessions of one of Reiser's friends – purportedly familiar to Elliott from the same BDSM circle– to eight unrelated murders) as "the truth's a motherfucker." This may be in keeping with the book's treatment of the case, but it is as unsatisfying dramatically as the relationship between Stephen and Lana. Franco's Elliott seems no more than an extension of Franco's eccentric public persona while Heard is as much a cypher as any of the film's other females (the barely-glimpsed mother and stepmother, Nina who only exists on home movies like Stephen's own mother, and the dominatrices he visits). The latter issue seems to be a matter of characterization rather than heavy post-production re-editing even though there does seem to be signs that the film has been cut down (the film would run eighty-one minutes or so without closing credits). While I would in no way advocate more Wilmer Valderrama in any film, his role either seems to have been lost some footage to the cutting room floor or it was a throwaway role he did as a favor for Franco or someone else.


The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen encode of this digitally-lensed film is a technically strong rendering of a film that has a varied palette with grainy home movies and gritty flashbacks, natural-lit interiors, somewhat flatter and noisier BDSM scenes with color gels and harsh contrast, with the actors looking the most naturalistic and the image possessing the most apparent depth in day exteriors which are overcast with sometimes warm and sometimes neutral skin tones. What issues the transfer has seems to be down to the aggressive grading.


The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is rather sedate given the intimate nature of much of the film but surrounds are used to give depth to exteriors, scenes like the public reading, club scenes where background noise gives way to the music as Franco's character achieves his high. Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.


The principal extras are an audio commentary by writer/director Pamela Romanowsky and "The Adderall Diaries: A Director’s Perspective" featurette (11:49), both which feature the Romanowsky discussing the challenges of adapting the book, the actors' contributions and how "brave" Franco and Heard were during the choking scene, but is most interesting when she discusses her shooting methodology as applied to the flashbacks (with their subtle variations in emphasis from the perspective of the father or the son) as well as her desire to convey that the film's photography and editing are "directed" by the protagonist's moods and movements.

The deleted scenes (9:47) are not particularly revealing, consisting of an alternate opening title sequence (the feature version saves all of the acting and above-the-line technical credits for the ending before the crawl), an extended version of Stephen's and Lana's final scene together, an extended version of his first session with a dominatrix (which here begins like a therapy session before the woman enters nude), and one other BDSM encounter that was deleted entirely from the film.


Based on the memoir by Stephen Elliott, The Adderall Diaries has some interesting conceptual ideas about the reconstruction of memory but is nevertheless an enervating self-indulgent exercise in technique.


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