Typically, movies based on true stories tend to be more fictional than their sources. But the story upon which the new film A Million Little Pieces is based is not your typical true story. The "memoir" by James Frey about his unbelievable life as a drug addict turned out to be unbelievable for a reason: Frey admitted in 2006 to having invented and exaggerated much of the memoir. So that begs the question: How accurate is A Million Little Pieces the movie? Since the film is telling the story of Frey's struggles with addiction, will it hew closer to what Frey actually went through in his real life, or will it stick to the largely fictionalized version of his bestselling memoir/novel?
If you're still harboring some skepticism about the film due to the controversy surrounding the book, you needn't be. Apparently, the movie cuts out much of the book's more extraneous exaggerations and instead makes an attempt to tell what really happened to Frey because, at the end of the day, James Frey really did have a difficult battle with addiction for which he went to rehab.
"With the movie itself, by the time we condensed the book from 500 pages to a 100-minute long movie, [the question of accuracy is] sort of irrelevant. We’ve lost so many characters and different storylines," Taylor-Johnson tells Bustle. "What we’ve done is focus in on James’ journey. That, for me, is very real. I went to the treatment center with him, I met his counselors. It was the six weeks he spent there, we talked about that with them ... Really spending that time with James and saying that he went through that, it’s still a big kind of hope for people today."
Taylor-Johnson also found Frey and other real-life characters from the story to be great resources for fact-checking. "It was great, because I would just call [Frey] up and say, 'Miles Davis, tell me some stories about him.' And he would say, 'Here’s his number, why don’t you call him yourself?'" the director told We Got This Covered. "It was really helpful to call up James and ask him what kind of cigarettes did he smoke and 'When you were there, how did you feel about this?' So to have him as a resource but also as someone who didn’t mind how you interpreted their work was a total gift."
Even though the film isn't a straight adaptation of the book, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a 100% true chronicle of Frey's life story, either. Taylor-Johnson's husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who co-wrote the film and stars as Frey, considers the movie to be more of a work of interpretive art rather than a true-life tale. "Some might have seen the [book's] controversy as a road block," he told Deadline. "If anything, it allowed us to impose our own artistic interpretation of the book. We were able to adapt it based on our own emotional responses, and interpret it in a physical and visceral-visual way that lent itself to Sam’s filmmaking. We never read or were indebted to any draft or the vision of anyone else."
The movie adaptation of the book A Million Little Pieces is nowhere near as controversial as its source material, and though it probably won't win any awards for accuracy, its message of addiction and recovery still rings true.
Additional reporting by Allison Piwowarski.