A Million Little Pieces is a technically competent (and occasionally impressive) film that lacks perspective and personality. In life generally and this festival particularly, we have been inundated with films about addictions and recovery. If you’re going to pile on, I expect you have a hot take, a fresh point of view. It’s not unreasonable to expect that A Million Little Pieces might have had one; several years ago (2003, in fact), James Frey released his memoir (of the same name) and it was a monster best-seller. But when questions of authenticity surfaced, Frey’s shooting star burned out quickly, thanks in large part to Oprah’s dragon-fire condemnation.
The film was relegated to back burner, then cold storage, then deep freeze as the controversy was allowed to cool. But now that people have all but forgotten his name, Sam Taylor-Johnson brings his story to the big screen but curiously leaves the scandal unthawed, with only a Mark Twain quote to excuse away his dishonesty.
What’s left is a story without a single breath of uniqueness. Drugs are bad, behaviour off the rails, shipped to rehab against his will, detox makes you sick, “I don’t need to be here,” resistance, rule-breaking, temptation, uncovering trauma, cautious optimism. Insert new names and this could literally describe at least a dozen movies about addictions, and those are just the ones I can name and I can’t name shit. Although Sam Taylor-Johnson makes things pretty (save her own husband, with cracked teeth and a broken nose), this feels like a very familiar, very formulaic iteration.
Taylor-Johnson’s husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, co-writes the script with her (which seems not to be a strength) and stars as Frey. She has enormous faith in his abilities as an actor, and directs him well. He’s committed and intense, and would have been great in a great role, except they failed to write one, and this “Frey” character is bland and superficial. We hardly get to know him, and the few flashbacks are not informative or expository, they’re hardly more than images. That said, his costars, including Billy Bob Thornton, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, Charlie Hunnam, and Odessa Young, get even shorter shrift. Back stories? Ha. These people barely get front stories. They fill the obligatory sharing-circle chairs and that’s about it.
I think there might have been a little life to this story had they not shied away from the truth of it. But as is, it’s a million little pieces of ordinary that add up to 113 minutes of boring, minus the 40 seconds or so when Aaron rocks out with his cock out. With so many options at the cinema, this just doesn’t cut it. An easy miss.