‘The Adderall Diaries’: Book adaptation OD’s on storylines

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Ed Harris (left) and James Franco in “The Adderall Diaries.” | A24

Shaking off the headache-inducing viewing experience that is “The Adderall Diaries,” I was left thinking:

With the right material, Ed Harris and James Franco would be dynamite in a two-character movie or play.

On a couple of occasions in this frenetic, precious and self-conscious hipster drama, Harris as the deeply flawed father and Franco as the tragically troubled son bare their fangs and verbally lunge at each other with a chilling ferocity so raw and powerful it’s fantastically uncomfortable to watch.

The actors bring out the finest in each other as they punch and counter-punch vastly different memories of horrific incidents from the past. It’s great stuff.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the “The Adderall Diaries” is overwrought, convoluted and irritating.

Written and directed by Pamela Romanowsky, “The Adderall Diaries” is an adaptation of the best-selling memoir from Stephen Elliott, but it takes great liberties with the source material, to mostly confusing effect. (In a piece for Vulture, Elliott wrote he was grateful his book was turned into a movie, primarily because he needed the money, and he understands films will always take license with true stories, but he rattles off a number of major — and negative — differences between his works and the film.)

Franco’s portrayal of Stephen dives headfirst into the playbook of clichéd Hollywood portrayals of troubled writers. Stephen lives in a giant, messy apartment, he has I-don’t-give-a-bleep facial hair, he sports numerous tattoos, he’s addicted to beautiful women and dangerous drugs and, yes, of course he has a motorcycle.

In Stephen’s memoir, he writes extensively about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his late father, Neil — but then Stephen’s supposedly dead dad shows up, claiming Stephen’s writings are the stuff of fiction.

Amber Heard’s Lana, a New York Times reporter who’s just as casually beautiful as Stephen and nearly as messed-up, gets one look at Stephen’s motorcycle and decides they’ll be dating now, thank you very much. Let the risqué sex games and the wild nights and the deep conversations begin!

Not to say New York Times reporters can’t be drop-dead gorgeous and crazy and covered with torso tattoos, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Amber Heard does not deliver the most convincing portrayal of a New York Times reporter ever captured on film.

As Stephen wrestles with what percentage of his memories are based in real events and what percentage are pure fabrication, his exasperated agent (Cynthia Nixon) points out his whole making-things-up thing could, you know, kill his career. Stephen is convinced he’ll find redemption writing a book about the sensational trial of a man (Christian Slater) accused of murdering his ex-wife. It could be his “In Cold Blood,” he proclaims with no shred of modesty.

What with Stephen’s shifting memories, his intense confrontations with his father, the flashback scenes to a teenage Stephen getting into trouble, Stephen’s self-destructive behavior, the unconvincing romance with the New York Times reporter and the murder trial, “The Adderall Diaries” comes across as an incomplete jumble of colliding plot lines.

But if it leads to Harris and Franco teaming up for a better movie or a stage production, I’ll take it.


A24 presents a film written and directed by Pamela Romanowsky, based on the memoir by Stephen Elliott. Running time: 87 minutes. Rated R (for language throughout, drug use, sexuality, and some aberrant and disturbing content). Opens Friday at AMC Loews Streets of Woodfield and on demand.

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