When approaching drug-related topic in film, paired with a coming-of-age story, it’s difficult to balance the themes without neglecting one in favor of the other. Director Rob Reiner (“Stand by Me,” “The American President”) doesn’t belittle the fact that drugs can tear apart families and their heavy use is not the best idea, but “Being Charlie” doesn’t quite develop its lead character, who remains very angst-ridden and misunderstood in all the stereotypical ways an eighteen-year-old is often portrayed.
Charlie (Nick Robinson) has just turned eighteen. He’s been in and out of rehab centers for a lot of his teen years, but hopes to be taken back in with his parents. Unfortunately for him, his father, actor-turned-politician, David (Cary Elwes), is running for office and thinks Charlie would be better of at a rehab center. Thirty days turn into longer and Charlie, not feeling supported by his parents, only has his addict friend, Adam (Devon Bostick) and Eva (Morgan Saylor), who’s flighty and itching for alcohol at every turn. Charlie navigates his life, with the help of drug counselor, played by Common. By the end, there’s something that clicks for him to finally try and get his life back together.
Reiner approaches “Being Charlie” in a sincere way, but there are a lot of things that don’t particularly stick. For one, there’s no clear emotional transition for Charlie from the young man we meet at the beginning to the Lifetime-style ending. Honestly, Nick Robinson is what saves the movie from dropping off completely. Ever since “Kings of Summer,” easily one of the better indie coming-of-age films in the last few years, Robinson has proved that he is more than a capable actor. He makes even the more underwhelming of characters come alive in some way, even if the film fails to do so on a higher level. Robinson portrays Charlie’s shortcomings, the bits of vulnerability and frustration at his father, his fear of death later on, all so well. If the film had been a stronger one, Robinson would have had so much more to play with, but alas.
The plot has a lot of good elements, but they somehow don’t seem to blend together very well. There is no concrete emotional resonance that is felt. Charlie’s relationship with his father is rocky, but by the time the end comes around, there is some kind of understanding between them that doesn’t feel organic in any way. Even Charlie’s relationship with Eva, who has her own set of problems that are barely touched upon, feels forced. The romance between them could have expanded on Charlie’s mindset, could have grown him as a person, but instead, their moments together are fleeting and don’t really add anything to the overall narrative that couldn’t have been substituted for the relationship with his dad. The only relationship that really works in the film is the friendship between Charlie and Adam, whose eventual choices wake Charlie up and ultimately move his character forward.
While it can be termed as a coming-of-age story, “Being Charlie” misses its mark by lacking the proper character development that would have made a stronger impact on the overall story. Between the slight romantic relationship, the drugs, and the tension between son and father, the film tries to cover several aspects, of how heroin can destroy lives and families chief among them, but the lines are not connected enough for it to have any kind of substantial emotional effect on the audience.
Between the slight romantic relationship, the drugs, and the tension between son and father, "Being Charlie" tries to cover several aspects, of how heroin can destroy lives and families among them, but the lines are not connected enough for it to have any kind of substantial emotional effect on the audience.