Girl, Interrupted (1999)    0 Stars

“The crazy thing is, you’re not crazy.”

Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Girl, Interrupted (1999)


Director: James Mangold

Cast: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall

Synopsis: Based on writer Susanna Kaysen’s account of her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s.

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I’m surprised how often Girl, Interrupted is referred to as a female version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because this sterile, sanitised waste of time can’t hold a candle to a movie of OFOTCN’s magnitude; this is simply an update of 40s flicks like The Snake Pit, and struggles even to justify comparison with that movie. Had it contributed anything new or refreshing to the genre its grandiloquent self-importance may have been excusable, but this movie merely rehashes old themes and relies too heavily on some commendable performances (Goldberg and Jolie in particular) to fool the viewer into believing s/he is watching something momentous.

James Mangold’s directorial tricks are too obvious to be considered successful; such devices as the sound-overlap between present and flashback scenes, and the use of dull, toned-down colours until Ryder’s trite moment of revelation (after which the bright, vibrant colours of autumn leaves and clear blue skies fill the screen) practically poke the viewer’s shoulder with relentless insistence in their demand to be noticed.

Ryder’s reasons for attempting suicide also seem remarkably tame – being diagnosed as having a ‘borderline personality disorder’ is like being told you’re nearly late when you’re on time – she seems to suffer nothing worse than the average teenager, yet displays no characteristics to suggest that she suffers from a fragile mentality (which would at least explain why she breaks down when others would not). Ironically (considering her current problems), Ryder (1969, Dracula) never really comes across as a troubled girl, and never really shows any horror or despair at being practically route-marched to the asylum without warning. The hospital itself is the kind of operation that would have bogus asylum seekers faking lunacy to get in. Angelina Jolie (Alexander) aside, there are no truly disturbed patients here, just eccentric (which in Hollywood parlance means loveable) characters; there’s no despair in this institution, no desperation, no frustration, no boredom, all of which must have been endemic in such places.

Worst of all, the principal characters are so selfish and self-absorbed that you really don’t care what happens to them, which makes the horribly sentimental ending that much more difficult to stomach. This movie is based on an autobiography but I detect little truth here (Hollywood revision for the sake of big bucks at work, no doubt); the story unfolds as if Girl, Interrupted is nominating itself as the case study for Scriptwriting 101 – real life never unfolds this predictably – and yet scriptwriter Mangold (doubly guilty!) should realise that moments of incisive insight (which reduce a tough-as-nails sociopath to a semi-comatose wreck) are rarely screamed in the midst of near hysteria.

(Reviewed 10th July 2002)

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