A Million Little Pieces (2018)

A Million Little Pieces
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Writer: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Sam Taylor-Johnson
Based on: James Frey‘s memoir/novel
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Odessa Young, Charlie Hunnam, Juliette Lewis, Giovanni Ribisi, Billy Bob Thornton, David Dastmalchian, Dash Mihok, Ryan Hurst
Part of: Toronto International Film Festival
Seen on: 11.9.2018

After falling from a balcony because he is so high, James (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is finally admitted into a rehab center in Minnesota by his brother (Charlie Hunnam). As James slowly starts to work through is own issues and becoming clean, he gets to know his rehab colleagues, above all Lilly (Odessa Young) whom he feels very drawn to, his roommate (Giovanni Ribisi) and Leonard (Billy Bob Thornton) who becomes something like a guide for him.

A Million Little Pieces is a strong film that interestingly enough puts the body front and center, drawing on dance as a form of expression and is much more serious and less sensationalistic than I expected after the book’s history. I was much more impressed by it than I thought it would be.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the film.

I went into the film thinking that I had read the book, but for some reason, I got it confused with Twelve. But I knew the story surrounding the book’s publication: It was published as Frey’s memoir until people started poking holes in the veracity of it and he admitted that it wasn’t as much a memoir as a novel drawing on his experiences – causing quite a scandal. Basing a film on this book then, is automatically a charged affair: the scandal will follow around. I got the feeling, though, that the Taylor-Johnsons tried their hardest not to engage with any of that, concentrating on the story told instead.

The film opens with James dancing his way off the first floor of a building buck-naked (as somebody who appreciates both dancing and naked guys, especially Aaron Taylor-Johnson, let me say: thank you from the bottom of my heart). It’s a scene that establishes much of what the film delivers on later: interesting visuals (that sometimes veer off into dream and dreamlike territory), a great soundtrack, dancing and more generally expression through the body, and a striking combination of vulnerability and energy in James and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the film.

I was particularly taken with the use of bodies in the film, not only but also through dance. It’s an unusual move in a film that is otherwise a pretty straightforward addiction recovery film and it works very well, leading to one of the most uncomfortable, horrible dentist scenes I have ever experienced. And I don’t even have a problem with dentists normally.

The film keeps switching between a sense of humor and emotional punches, and both elements work. There is really only one thing I was not enthusiastic about and that was the characterization of James’ roommate, a gay guy who never stops propositioning James. It’s a little more nuanced than playing outright into the predatory gay trope, but still, I could have done without it.

Overall, I did not expect to be this floored by the film – and I can’t understand why it hasn’t seen a wider release yet. Hopefully it will come.

Odessa Young and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the film.

Summarizing: Really good.

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