I’m talking to Rob Reiner in one of the Trump buildings. It’s a bit surreal: Reiner, one of Hollywood’s most outspoken lefties, sitting in an office where the elevators are caked in gold. The “All in the Family” star-turned-Oscar-nominated director talks a bit about politics, but he’s here to talk about something even closer to his heart. His latest film, “Being Charlie,” was not just co-written by his son. The film, starring Nick Robinson (“Jurassic World”), deals with the younger Reiner’s experiences as a teenager in drug rehabs (in one of which he met his cowriter, Matt Elisofon). Reiner the elder wound up directing it himself, but he insists it wasn’t just a fit of family therapy.
When you volunteered to direct Nick and Matt’s script, did you view it as way to exorcise demons?
No, not at all. I was kind of blindsided by a lot of it. We didn’t go into it thinking this was going to be cathartic. We just wanted to tell a story that was something we understood. But it turned out to be [cathartic]. I didn’t realize how intense it was going to get at times. The separation between the characters and us got so blurred as to get wiped out at times. We got into a lot of the things the characters in the film would get into. But it forced us in a weird way to face each other. Even though it was tough, it was the best creative experience I’ve ever had. And it made our relationship better. It’s gotten even better since then.
In part because it’s by someone who knew what rehabs are really like, it avoids playing the blame-the-victim card, which has long been how we deal with people who have addictions.
We punish them. That’s what we’ve done. Either with a program or we throw them in jail. Now people are starting to understand these people have problems. It’s not like they’re taking drugs because they’re frivolous. They’re in pain and they’re self-medicating. So let’s help them understand where that pain comes from so they can do something other than take drugs, which they’ve all acknowledged is ruining their lives. Hopefully this will add to the dialogue in some way.
A lot of films about addiction also tend to be very melodramatic and view their characters as defined entirely through their struggle. This film can be lighthearted.
We tried to have as many full-rounded characters as possible. There’s dark stuff in this movie — really dark stuff. At the same time they’re human beings. There’s a scene where they’re in the bathroom cleaning it, and the other guy is telling a story about a blow job. He said, “That’s a conversation I had.” So I said let’s put it in there. It happened! Life is not one way or the other.