A Million Little Pieces is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
In 2003 James Frey published his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, to press and public acclaim. However, just a few years later, this book would find itself embroiled in controversy. Here Frey would admit to ‘making up’ some aspects of his story, with the debate only heightened by an explosive interview on the Oprah Winfrey show. Fifteen years on, the scuffle that ensued now seems slightly over-egged; after all, how many memoirs are 100% based on fact? In fact, how many daily conversations and memories are grounded in reality? However, this does create a problem in translating his book for the screen. Is it fiction? Fact? Or just a damn good yarn?
Sam Taylor-Johnsons adaptation of A Million Little Pieces comes during a year when addiction dramas have dominated cinema with mixed success, from the powerful Beautiful Boy to the limp Ben is Back and the chalk and cheese The Souvenir. Therefore, A Million Little Pieces needed to offer something unique and different to capture an audience tired of addiction dramas. In part, Taylor-Johnson achieves this through strong performances, cinematography and sound. However, despite moments of brilliance, A Million Little Pieces fails to offer us anything new under the surface.
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Opening with an orgy of drugs, alcohol and dance that would lead Frey to fall from a balcony, the damaged young man finds himself on a plane, his broken and battered body matching his internal addictive state. His rescuer is his tired brother (Charlie Hunnam), who books Frey into a Minnesota rehab centre for his own safety. Here, Frey must face the demons of his past and the danger of his present.
A Million Little Pieces struggles to define its core message as we follow Frey through rehabilitation, bouncing from the importance of self-discovery and healing to the value of organised therapy. Meanwhile, many of the characters surrounding Frey feel contrived, simplistic and under-used. This creates a disjointed narrative, where characters randomly appear and disappear, each one merely wallpaper. The strength of the film’s narrative ultimately lies in exploring the individual and the ghosts of Frey’s past choices rather than the convoluted rehab process. Ultimately, Aaron Taylor-Johnson saves A Million Little Pieces from mediocrity with a stunning central performance. But even Aaron can’t save Frey’s journey’s wayward structure and confused messaging.
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson