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TIFF Review: A Million Little Pieces

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At the beginning of Million Little Pieces a quote by Mark Twain adorns the screen: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life.  Some of which actually happened.”  This is the only allusion to the controversy that followed James Frey after the publication of his memoir of the same name.  After it rose to acclaim and the tops of the non-fiction charts, even endorsed by Oprah herself, it was revealed that many aspects were fabricated.  And like that book, the film leaves you questioning just who IS James Fray?

We meet James (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) during the predictable and cliched “rock-bottom” scene – dancing around naked in the midst of a terrible bender.  After falling off a balcony he is packaged up and put on a plane, the destination a mystery to him when he finally rouses from his stupor.  He’s met at the other end by his brother (Charlie Hunnam) who takes him, against his will, to rehab.  What follows, as one might then assume, is his ascent from the bottom as he works through the program, along the way supported by an older fellow addict (Billy Bob Thornton) and his counsellor (Juliette Lewis).  He also happens to become involved with another patient at the facility – a young woman named Lilly (Odessa Young) who seems to give him purpose when he can’t find it within himself.  

While the journey of an addict is no doubt a harrowing experience, one of the main issues with this film is we are never given good background on James.  Besides from a few flashbacks of drug use and some passing mentions of a previous girlfriend we aren’t privy to who our protagonist really is.  And that means we don’t really care as much.  Taylor-Johnson, a talented actor, has the appropriate brooding look but through a film that is full of the typical rehab cliches, the material doesn’t elevate him.  Thornton isn’t given a lot to do but shines in perhaps one of the more memorable and most emotional scenes of the film. In that moment, it belongs to him.

Co-written by both Aaron and his wife, director Sam Taylor-Johnson, the film never seems to take off.  A few of James’ daydream like visions (him walking through a type of mud at the beginning, his food shrivelling) are never enough to feel like an appropriate storytelling device.  The direction here is fine, but the overall story arc and dramatic momentum feels lacking, leaving you with the feeling there is just a bit more beyond the borders that deserved to be told.  

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