Sunday 5 February 2012

Movie Review: Girl, Interrupted (1999)

A tale of depression, Girl, Interrupted loses momentum by unnecessarily lingering on every scene and celebrating its self-indulgence. Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie are excellent, but a relatively simple and personal story is overblown into a sometimes tiresome melodrama.

Based on the memoire of author Susanna Kaysen, the film is set in the 1960s. Susanna (Ryder) is detached from her parents and depressed, although the causes are only vaguely hinted at. After attempting suicide and under pressure from a psychiatrist, Susanna signs herself into Claymoore Hospital, a facility to treat mental illness. Run by the aloof Doctor Wick (Vanessa Redgrave), the other patients at Claymoore include the hyperactive and rebellious Lisa (Angelina Jolie) and the vulnerable but stoic Daisy (Brittany Murphy).

Lisa has made a habit out of regularly leaving and returning to Claymoore, treating the facility as a home base to run back to whenever her aggressive attitude to life catches up with her. Daisy is working towards being released and living on her own, but is emotionally vulnerable and prone to cutting herself. Nurse Owens (Whoopi Goldberg) is the main link between the patients and the outside world, in turns berating them for breaking the rules and encouraging them to edge closer to dealing with reality. After a series of encounters with the other girls, some exhilarating and others tragic, Susanna starts to find her long way back to better mental health.

Stretched out for more than two hours, Girl, Interrupted often struggles to make its point. In a demonstration of more is less, each one of Susanna's memories and escapades extends well beyond its useful value. While director James Mangold succeeds in painting a picture of a mostly supportive mental illness facility, little else is accomplished. Girl, Interrupted does not attempt to properly explore the triggers for depression or any of the other behaviours on display, nor are the pathways to treatment seriously investigated.

In amongst the long stares, Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie do deliver memorable performances. Ryder's dark glare hints at both the demons tormenting Susanna, and the surprise at landing in a mental facility without fully understanding why. Jolie's Lisa is all about pushing hard against life to avoid staring at her own responsibilities. Replacing glamour with a wiry intensity and radiating menace especially towards those least capable of handling it, Jolie deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In support and representing the forces of mostly well-intentioned authority, Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave mail in quite predictable performances.

Girl, Interrupted works in patches. Much like a brain drifting in and out of depression, it offers both prescient and dull moments, with the medications generally functioning but not quite in perfect balance.

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