Director Rob Reiner is no stranger to family classics, and while Being Charlie is, technically, a “family film,” it’s certainly not another Stand By Me or The Princess Bride. It’ll rip your insides out and make you feel helpless, because life isn’t always a storybook fairytale or a rockstar’s dream. The truth is, at one point or another during our earthly lives, we’re going to fuck up. There’s no instruction manual on how to “properly” navigate emotions, temptations and something as normal as parenthood. Things are going to get tough, and maybe unexpectedly dark, but there’s always redemption. Redemption through self-worth, redemption through pain and redemption through a commitment made towards being the person we want to be. Life is too precious to be wasted – even for those farthest gone.
Being Charlie (Nick Robinson) isn’t easy. While all his friends are pursuing prestigious college careers and living life to the fullest, Charlie spends his days bouncing from one rehab facility to the next. It doesn’t help that his father David (Cary Elwes), a swashbuckling-actor-turned-hopeful-politician, tries to keep his reckless son locked away, preventing any possible campaign snafus. Charlie rightfully feels abandoned, worthless and stuck in a depressing cycle, but with a little help from the right people (Common as a sober house “father,” Morgan Sayler as a fellow user/love interest), freedom may still be an option.
While one might expect Reiner to shy away from the dirtiness of drug abuse, Being Charlie depicts addiction at its lowest form. For everyone who doesn’t understand why habitual drug users don’t just stop, this is the movie they should see. Charlie’s own habits form as a cry for help, stemming from his strained relationships at home, while other characters offer a varied array usage stories. These are the people who truly want to quit, but walk away from sober-living houses and AA meetings because talking about help isn’t enough. Addiction is a disease, and it grips people like a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of its victim.
Nick Robinson’s performance here presents a wonderfully broken turn from the young actor, striking a tragic, yet uplifting evolution. We so desperately root for Charlie and connect with a child who just wants to feel loved. His father David doesn’t really mean what he says, but acts on the advice of doctors and therapists to deliver only tough love – an act that pushes Charlie away, hopefully for his own safety. Each phone call is punctuated by stinging heartbreak, felt both in Robinson’s distant glare and Cary Elwes’ end-of-the-road mentality. It’s on Robinson alone to guide us through a scummy, drug-driven underworld, as he fights the reality of becoming yet another sad DARE statistic.
What elevates Reiner’s vision most is an air of brutal honesty. Being Charlie is, at heart, a positive story about battling inner demons and taking responsibility. Acceptance, solution, and commitment – the three steps echoed throughout Charlie’s programming. Those are the keys to a sober, happy life, but nothing comes easy. Physical illness, emotional dips, and uncharted waters look to derail struggling addicts around every turn, which Charlie must deal with himself. His own best friend, Adam (Devon Bostick), says he’s there for Charlie, yet after taking him in, immediately offers hospitality of beer and cocaine. Every day is a constant battle for addicts, who collect 30-day tokens like a badge of honor. Another day sober is another day above ground, which is a realization that Reiner dutifully, and respectfully echoes throughout his latest film.
Being Charlie is a powerful movie featuring tremendous performances, but most importantly, director Rob Reiner evokes a humanly flawed personal weight that can only come from experience. Reiner not only invests in storytelling, but extends a hand to parents and teens struggling with the same types of life-threatening dangers. This all makes sense when you learn that his son, Nick Reiner, helped co-write Being Charlie‘s script, based on his own struggles with addiction as a teenager.
This isn’t just a movie. Being Charlie plays out a father/son dynamic already experienced by Rob and Nick, and spills its guts with commendable sincerity. Reiner invests in every scene, and we can feel his presence through every shot, providing an intimate touch that Hollywood largely lacks these days.
Being Charlie is a deeply personal Reiner affair that stings with honesty that's felt through tremendous performances.