The Adderall Diaries (2016) Movie Review: James Franco Forgets How Pretentious He Is

By: Matt Conway – 

Through thick and thin, I will always have a soft spot for James Franco. He is certainly in that Shia Labeouf celebrity tier of people who are just fascinatingly odd. Whether he is constantly debating his sexual orientation out loud (he’s the first “a little gay” person), or involving himself in a lot of more obscure projects, I’m always interested to see where Franco goes next.

Just imagine how weird their collaboration would be...
Just imagine how weird their collaboration would be…

His latest project is The Adderall Diaries, which is in line with his past few indie outings. Teaming with his The Color of Time collaborator Pamela Romanowsky, the film follows Stephen Elliot, a writer who finds himself in a myriad of problems. Once his estranged father resurfaces, Stephen begins a murky journey of finding his self-existence.

A Toast

Compared to his previously meandering offerings, it’s fair to give Franco credit for gravitating to a more substantial project. Most of his past indie efforts have been far too slight and meandering to really make an impact on their audiences. The Adderall Diaries, however, boasts a fairly interesting yarn that through the good and bad is at least enjoyable to watch unravel.

Oddly enough, the film is at its best when it’s at its most outlandish. Scenes of James Franco going on a drug binge or getting in a screaming fight with Ed Harris are quite compelling to watch. These raw moments of expression feel very genuine, as audiences get a real sense of Stephen’s downward spiral through his dark psychosis.

Ed Harris just always looks pissed off.
Ed Harris just always looks pissed off.

Despite this being her first standalone film, Romanowsky delivers a solid effort behind the director’s chair. Telling a story in a non-linear sense can be a tough task to handle, yet she pulls it off with style and precision. She is able to develop her own voice as a director, which makes the film stand out from the average indie.

Beer Two

The performances for the most part are fairly forgettable. James Franco does his usual mopey-eyed routine and it’s getting a little frustrating to watch at this point. One would think after truly shining with 127 Hours he would continue to stretch himself a little more, but that has not really been the case. He’s too charming to be awful, but his shtick is getting grating.

This explains a lot.
This explains a lot.

Everyone else in the cast is fine, but fails to truly stand out. Amber Heard is one of the most blah actresses in the business, continuing her streak of being ok in every movie she’s in. Supporting players like Harris, Cynthia Nixon, and Christian Slater do not really have enough screentime to make an impression. With more dynamic performances, this material could have had a deeper impact.

Beer Three

While the story here is engaging, it is also a complete clusterfuck. There are so many threads in the film that a great deal of them become muddled. The subplot in particular involving a murder case with Slater’s character feels so unnecessary, as the connection between that thread and Stephen’s character feels fairly slap-dash. Considering the film’s slight 87 minute running time, the arc felt like filler.

Beer Four

The Adderall Diaries falls flat where most other overly-ponderous indies do. Themes like our “edited” visions of our life and realizing just how narcissistic one can be are intriguing, but the film ultimately fails to truly delve deeply into these ideas. Instead, there are a few throw-away lines that just kind of spell the ideas out, making the execution of them feel fairly surface level.


The Adderall Diaries is a mildly engaging diversion that has some thought and care put into it, but succumbs to its ambition and lack of deftness. I love thoughtful indies more than most, but Franco continues his trend of failing to really capture the big picture.


The Adderall Diaries (2016) Movie Drinking Game

Take a Drink: during each outrageous yelling match

Do a Shot: every time a character says something pretentious

Take a Drink: each time James Franco stares in space

Take a Drink: anytime a character drinks or does drugs

Take a Drink: for the thought of James Franco being a biker

Just going to leave this here...
Just going to leave this here…

About Matt Conway

I love movies and sports and run on sentences. You can find me at a basketball court, the local theater, or napping on a couch somewhere.

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