Once marketed as a true account of the author’s stomach-churning struggle with addiction and alcoholism at the young age of 23, ‘A Million Little Pieces’ has since been re-branded as a semi-fictional novel.
At the time of its release in 2003, the ‘memoir’ was praised by some critics and picked apart by others. By 2005, it had earned a coveted spot on Oprah’s Book Club and quickly swept the nation, topping the New York Times Best Seller List for 15 weeks straight.
Which made it all the more painful that James Frey’s brutally frank story, released in 2003, had not been very frank at all. Frey found himself at the centre of a literary scandal when it became evident that some of what he’d written was, well, fake.
After an investigation into Frey and the book in 2006, he admitted that several of the crucial events that transpired in his novel never actually happened, leaving millions of sympathetic readers feeling betrayed.
PART 1: THE INVESTIGATION
One online database stumbled upon Frey’s fabrications almost by chance.
The Smoking Gun, a website that focuses on documenting criminal histories, posting court documents, arrest records, and police mugshots for public consumption, helmed the investigation.
When they went on the hunt for Frey’s mug shot in 2006 — Frey had appeared on the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’, piquing people’s interest in him — they got more than they bargained for.
“It basically set off a chain of events that started with us having a difficult time finding a booking photo of this guy,” editor William Bastone told CNN.
They spent six weeks looking into Frey, culminating in a damning article titled ‘A Million Little Lies’.
This wasn’t the first time that Frey’s claims were brought into question. As early as 2003, the Minneapolis ‘Star Tribune’ had expressed scepticism over the veracity of Frey’s accounts. At the time, Frey responded that he had never denied altering “small details”.
PART 2: THE CONFESSION
However, after The Smoking Gun’s in-depth examination — which particularly focused on Frey’s purported ‘criminal career’ — Frey was backed into a corner.
He returned to ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’, where Winfrey firmly condemned the author, saying she felt “duped.”
This time, Frey fessed up to fabricating elements of the memoir, claiming that the same demons that led him to drink and abuse drugs led him to lie about his life. He didn’t deny The Smoking Gun’s allegations, either.
“I think most of what they wrote was accurate, absolutely,” said Frey. According to him, he had first shopped his novel around as a fiction novel but it was rejected.
PART 3: THE MOVIE
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her actor husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson helm the film adaptation of ‘A Million Little Pieces’, arriving more than 15 years since the book first hit shelves.
Warner Bros initially held the rights to the adaptation but it hit the brakes on the project once the controversy over the false memoir emerged.
Husband-and-wife duo Sam and Aaron wanted to collaborate creatively again, after they created the John Lennon biopic ‘Nowhere Man’ together in 2009.
“Sam said, ‘I love this book, I really want to make it into a movie and you would be a perfect James.’ And that was 10 years ago, so when the rights got reverted back to [James Frey three years ago], we phoned him up and [asked], ‘What’s going on with the rights to the book?’” recalled Aaron, speaking to We Got This Covered. “And [James] said, ‘Why, do you want them?’ We said, ‘Yeah!’ And he said, ‘Great, you can have them.’”
The film — co-produced by The Picture Company and distributed by Momentum Pictures — premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018. The cast features big names, from Juliette Lewis and Billy Bob Thornton to Charlie Hunnam and Giovanni Ribisi.
Some critics could not get past Frey’s past misdoings that have tainted the memoir, while others commended the bleak portrayal of alcoholism, drug dependence and rehabilitation.
But nonetheless, no mention of the scandal makes its way into the narrative.
DID YOU KNOW?
Filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson and actor-husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson spent nearly two years putting together the screenplay for ‘A Million Little Pieces’, condensing a 382-page book into feature film length, but they shot the movie in only 20 days.
Don’t miss it!
‘A Million Little Pieces’ releases in the UAE on January 2.