A Million Little Pieces

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
A Million Little Pieces Movie Poster Image
Adults-only rehab drama shocks but falls short on story.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Finding your purpose gives you a reason to hang on, one day at a time. Forgive yourself for your transgressions. The film's intention is to give hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Several characters exemplify the idea that, to fully heal yourself, you must help others with their recovery. A gay character is portrayed in a very negatively stereotypical way.

Violence

Suicide and near-death experiences. Angry characters throw things and/or destroy furniture. Painful, bloody dental and medical procedures. People are handled roughly in several situations; in one, a character is punched. One character attempts to sexually assault someone in the shower. A young woman in seen in a position to provide a sex act for drugs.

Sex

Full-frontal male nudity: front, back, side -- sometimes in a sexual way and sometimes not. A plot point is that finding romantic love is one reason to stay clean. A couple kisses and fools around; they discuss sex and decide not to do it. Conversation about sexual history as it relates to prostitution. One character offers another sex, either with himself or with his adult daughter (both offers are rebuffed).

Language

Constant use of "f--k" and "s--t," as well as "ass," "a--hole," "balls," "bitch," "damn," "goddamn," "retard," "pr--k," "p---y," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of substance use, portrayed in negative light. Lead character smokes crack on camera. Party scene with people drinking and smoking. Character is an alcoholic, is seen at one point drinking hard and demonstrably longing to drink. Characters in rehab facility smoke frequently. Lots of vomiting. Medications given in rehab facility. Overall the "getting sober" part seems pretty awful, but when characters talk about doing drugs, they talk about how much they love it, muddling the message.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Million Little Pieces is based on James Frey's controversial 2003 novel about his time in a drug rehabilitation facility. The content is mature and disturbing, showing viewers the horrifying life of a drug addict and the difficulty of getting clean. James (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) smokes crack and chugs liquor, chain smokes, and dances in excrement. He's also filmed completely nude (all sides, all angles -- it's an eyeful) and relieves his bowels while viewers are forced to watch. Also naked is John (Giovanni Ribisi), a gay character who plays out the worst of homophobic stereotypes, including sexually preying on another man in the shower. Other violent scenes include suicide and near-death experiences, angry destruction, painful/bloody medical procedures, punching, and more. The film explains why addiction is considered a disease, but as much as the film might seem like a deterrent to doing drugs, characters' conversations about the appeal of the highs could make drug use appealing to teens. Eventually, though, James is able to demonstrate self-control and get the upper hand on his addiction. Expect lots of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," etc.); prostitution is also shown, including a young woman in the act.

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What's the story?

Based on the 2003 novel, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES recounts the experience of James Frey (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who's put into a rehabilitation facility to kick his drug and alcohol addictions. While he's reluctant to buy in to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program, he meets a fellow patient who gives him a reason to get clean.

Is it any good?

Frey's story is intended as a scared-straight awakening, but it feels more like a series of slaps in the face. Watching A Million Little Pieces is a visceral experience that's meant to shock you into understanding the intense struggle of trying to escape addiction. But it ends up being too much unpleasant imagery and too little story-building. For instance, we get a year-by-year laundry list of James' dalliances with drugs and alcohol but never hear which events led him to pursue a high so relentlessly. And it's hard to see why other characters are drawn to him: He's a world-class jerk. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her husband/the film's star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, co-wrote the script -- Aaron's first produced screenplay and Sam's second. The gritty memoir is a big bite for one's first chew; instead of a story that flows, what we get is a series of rehab vignettes.

Both Taylor-Johnsons have immense talent, and so they're almost at odds with their own creation. Sam, known for her eye as an artist, adds a lovely aesthetic to scenes that are otherwise repulsive: a crack den fight; a wild party where James is high out of his mind and dancing fully naked, nethers swinging; and even a moment when he's slipping and sliding in the excrement he envisions running down the walls. Aaron is one of the finest actors of his generation, and it's easy to see why he'd be eager to bring his touch to this complicated character. But because of the disjointed storytelling, his performances comes off overwrought and act-y. Even old pro Billy Bob Thornton doesn't sizzle in every scene: His down home, comfortable delivery is welcome but out of place. Juliette Lewis, on the other hand, is spot on as a former addict-turned-drug counselor. In some scenes, elements shine; in others, those same elements fail. Living up to its title, the completed work never quite gels.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way that drug use/abuse permeates all of A Million Little Pieces, even though actual drug use is only shown a few times. Does that affect the way you perceive addiction? Why or why not? Are there realistic consequences for use?

  • Why is addiction considered a disease? What's the long-term success rate among those who go to rehab, as stated in the film? How does Frey eventually get the upper hand on his recovery? 

  • Frey was criticized for calling his book a memoir, even though parts of it were fictionalized. What is a memoir? Do you think complete honesty is necessary when telling a "true story," or is the takeaway what's important?

  • How does James learn self-control? Do you think his solution is something that works in real life, or is it a "Hollywood ending"?

  • The story is supposed to inspire hope for people in a dark spot. Does it succeed?

Movie details

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