The Adderall Diaries paints a vivid portrait of addiction

Actor James Franco grapples with issues of drugs and child abuse in his latest film The Adderall Diaries, which will be released on Friday. The film is an adaptation of the crime-thriller memoir by author Stephen Elliott, and is adapted and directed by Pamela Romanowsky. Its cast features an accomplished lineup including  Franco, Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Christian Slater and Wilmer Valderrama. The Adderall Diaries premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and was distributed through exclusive digital release to DirecTV customers in March.

Franco takes the lead role as Stephen Elliott, who is creating a book about his wild and hedonistic youth during which he struggled with drugs and abuse from his father. His character is in the midst of a successful book deal and romantic encounters with Lana Edmond (Heard) when his father, Neil (Harris) reappears in his life to challenge the authenticity of the stories told by Elliott. Meanwhile, Elliott is following a court case involving the disappearance of a mother, and is often moved by the proceeding, envisioning or relating aspects of it to his past. While some speculate that the mother ran away, many others suggested it was murder and point the finger of blame to the father (Slater), who Elliott relates to his own father.

The story progresses with developments in Elliott’s experimentation with Adderall, which causes his own form of writer’s block that creates more obstacles in the other facets of his life. Along with the re-emergence of his father into his life, Elliott struggles to make sense of his past and attempts to gain closure from  his dark days as a teen where his drug-fueled escapades would often result in damaging his estranged father’s property, leading to more abuse.

Franco and Harris have the best chemistry in the film as the estranged father and son, who argue over the past and each other’s motives. Their arguments often sweep into high intensity routs, yet their portrayal is always genuine and emotion is congruent with the context of the fight. Common themes between the two are the notions of being “editors” of the past, especially when debating Elliott’s writings, and competing statements over who was the “victim” of their relationship.

Heard and Franco’s character chemistry, on the other hand, does not flow nearly as well. For a substantial part of the film, their relationship is based off of the discomfort caused by Elliott’s arousal for abuse and their own romance falling out of the honeymoon stage.

Although the film ends on a higher note, The Adderall Diaries is a melancholy story that makes Elliott into a Kurt Cobain-esque figure who never truly disproves that humans are naturally bad from his perspective. Perhaps what Elliott realizes at the end, where his character has a greater epiphany, is to start with one’s self as the change in the world, and soon see the change in how one sees others.