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Movies

A Million Little Pieces review – glossy addiction drama rings hollow


Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson preface their adaptation of James Frey’s mega-selling memoir about his addiction and recovery at 23 with a Mark Twain quote: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” A little nod there to the controversy surrounding Frey’s admission that he fabricated chunks of his 2003 book. The Taylor-Johnsons, who married after making the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy together, co-wrote the script here, with Sam directing and Aaron giving a lightweight, sanitised performance as Frey. The result is disappointingly dull, the equivalent of buying sham weed. You wait for something to happen, but … nothing.

It opens on a euphoric high, with a beautiful hypnotic scene as Frey dances naked on crack to the Smashing Pumpkins. Stopping to light up a cigarette, he falls backwards off a balcony and smashes up his face. At a Minnesota rehab centre Frey is informed by a doctor that he’s one drink away from death; the unit has never seen someone so young with such knackered organs. The film’s problem is the unfeasibly unravaged Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who with his luminous skin and bulked up biceps looks like he’s just spent the week with his personal trainer rather than face down in a crack den.

Frey, with his self-consciously macho prose, reinvented himself in the book as a tough guy; Hemingway with a crackpipe. Taylor-Johnson showily trashes a room or two, but with his puppyish openness plays Frey as good kid who went off the rails, with no inkling as to the emotional problems that messed him up. A Million Little Pieces is a weirdly unreflective exploration of the destructive force of addiction and, setting a new benchmark for blandness, drags on for what feels like a million not-so-little minutes.

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