If you're unfamiliar with the name Rabbit Bandini Productions, then you're likely unfamiliar with the best that James Franco has to offer. Bold statement? Perhaps, but if you follow Franco's career at all you likely already are aware that it sure seems like Franco's major studio releases all serve to finance Franco's heart n' soul work through Rabbit Bandini, a production company he helped get started more than ten years ago when Hollywood was still trying to mold him into their next pretty boy and romantic leading man.
I first became familiar with Rabbit Bandini after serving up a review of 2005's The Ape, an underrated indie gem that introduced me to one of Franco's producing partners and also allowed me the chance to key cast members from the film with the exception of Franco himself (though I came incredibly close to snagging that long desired interview!).
It's a little over ten years later. Hollywood still hasn't quite figured out how to best utilize Franco, yet Franco continues to churn out intellectually satisfying, authentic and just plain challenging cinema through Rabbit Bandini.
Based upon an autobiographical story by acclaimed writer Stephen Elliott, The Adderall Diaries is typical Franco indie work - not particularly entertaining, challenging, thought-provoking, bold, complex and so incredibly clearly the kind of film that Franco truly embraces. While it's not the case that Franco's studio work is devoid of value, he's had far too many critical and box-office winners to claim that, I've always thought that Franco seemed uncomfortable in that "romantic leading man" role that seems to surface every couple of years. The simple truth is that Franco doesn't do "shallow" well - he's a gifted actor, but he simply doesn't have the gift for faking interest in a project that doesn't interest him.
When he's interested? Watch out.
Franco is clearly interested in The Adderall Diaries, a messy yet mesmerizing story about a writer's messy and complicated relationship with his father, a relationship that brought him a great degree of fame in his first novel that is eventually learned to be based upon half-truths and inconsistent fragments of memory. Franco's Stephen is already having issues with writer's block and producing contractually obligated writing when a public reading of his material goes wildly awry upon the arrival of his father (Ed Harris), whose reported death in Stephen's book is obviously proven wrong and threatens to drive the final nail into Stephen's downwardly spiraling career. Instead of rising to the challenge, Stephen's already addictive personality spirals out of control into drugs, sadomasochistic sex and an obsession with the murder trial of Hans Reiser (Christian Slater), an entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "good father" who may or may not have murdered his entire family.
Rumor has it that Elliott himself isn't particularly satisfied with the final product, though if this is true at least he's having the decency to not be outwardly hostile about it all. Elliott's beef with the film is said to essentially be writer/director Pamela Romanowsky's loose interpretation of Elliott's writings. While there may be, and in fact is, a certain legitimacy to this concern, it's also true that Elliott's work doesn't lend itself quite easily to cinematic interpretation and, at the very least, it seems like Romanowsky, in her first feature directorial effort, has at least maintained consistent faithfulness to Elliott's core themes and, thankfully, has avoided any overt Hollywood bastardizing of the work.
The fact that The Adderall Diaries is being released by indie distributor A24 Films, a distributor that seems to have become Hollywood's new voice for the indie filmmaker, should likely tell you that The Adderall Diaries is possessing of a unique, challenging vision that may not resonate with everyone but should resonate with those who appreciate uncompromising indie cinema.
This type of performance is my favorite side of Franco, though I'll confess a great fondness for his slacker/stoner projects, as Franco's at the top of his game as Stephen. Franco, whose breakthrough as James Dean beautifully personified a wonderfully complex Hollywood figure, does the same here in capturing a young man tortured by memories, real and imagined and intentionally constructed, and yet remarkably charismatic and involving. Ed Harris, as the rumored to be abusive father whose memories of that same childhood are vastly different, gives an absolutely terrific performance that is intense and emotionally terrifying. Though underutilized, Christian Slater hits a homer as Hans Reiser while Cynthia Nixon shines as Stephen's hard-working agent along with Amber Heard as a New York Times reporter covering the Reiser story who becomes involved with Stephen.
Romanowsky, who has collaborated with Franco previously, makes some bold choices in this 87-minute film that goes by quickly. Bruce Thierry Cheung's lensing nicely travels between past and present, while the music from Michael Andrews serves as a perfect accompaniment to the film.
The Adderall Diaries isn't the best Rabbit Bandini production to come about, though it's an impressive effort filled with uncompromising acting from Franco and Harris and a quality directorial debut from Romanowsky that makes me anxious to see what she'll do next.
You can catch The Adderall Diaries on DirecTV and in theaters nationwide as part of its limited indie release. For more information, visit The Adderall Diaries website.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic