Girl, Interrupted Movie Review
Teen angst gets the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" treatment in "Girl, Interrupted," James Mangold's disappointingly common and commercial follow-up to his earlier, low-budget wonders "Heavy" and "Cop Land."
Poor Winona Ryder -- in her late 20s and still playing teenagers -- stars as 1960s suburban college drop-out Susanna, a compulsive writer stuck in an upscale asylum for a "rest" after mixing booze and a bottle of pain killers.
Borderline Personality Disorder is the maddeningly vague diagnosis of her psychological bugaboos -- the movie seems to want to make a point about our culture's tendency to seek scapegoats for our neuroses -- so Susanna is packed off to a New England psychiatric hospital where, in between the pill dole from the nursing staff, she writes endlessly in her dog-eared journal and fills it with tell-tale drawings the camera can cut to for moments of cheap insight.
Locked away with her is a predictable assembly of whiny girls with an A to Z of emotional issues -- the burn victim with internal scars to match the outer ones, the disturbed, Doris Day-like, daddy's girl (Brittany Murphy), deeply in denial about a dark family secret. Susanna gets treatment from a presumptuously smirking doctor (Vanessa Redgrave, shining in a tiny role) and homespun wisdom from a durable, sagacious RN (Whoopi Goldberg, in a big ol' afro). Of course, she also latches on to the charismatic resident troublemaker, Lisa (Angelina Jolie), a sexualized sociopath who has been in and out of the institution for eight years.
Mangold gets off to a good start in this adaptation of a best-selling memoir by novelist Susanna Kaysen, narrating what promises to be a predictable story from inside the girl's head, which is a confused jumble of times and events, illustrated with disorienting editing and camera techniques.
But it isn't long before the director's creativity is numbed by the conventions he can't seem to avoid -- the sanctimonious Questioning of the System (should Susanna be in here at all?), and the inevitable, empowering (and temporary) escape of Lisa and Susanna -- just as the ensemble of afflicted young patients are numbed by their medication.
Pixie-haired Ryder does a fine job of portraying a girl on the edge of instability, even if she does employ the same brow-stitching anxiety accouterments she's put to use in what must be a dozen other films by now.
Jolie, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe and is the topic of Oscar buzz, is certainly magnetic as the wildly temperamental Lisa. But her performance feels like an asylum rehash of her Emmy-winning role as the coke-addicted '80s fashion model "Gia" in HBO's 1998 biopic. Anyone who hasn't seem that picture may well be amazed by her performance here. She's a talented actress. But anyone who has seen "Gia" will experience deja vu.
Ultimately, "Girl, Interrupted" is an oddly warm and fuzzy mental hospital movie without much of an emotional hook -- and nothing at all like "Cuckoo's Nest," to which even I am guilty of drawing a prosaic comparison. It's been tweaked for the chick flick demographic and burdened with too-obvious allusions (parallels are drawn between our heroine's condition and the social upheaval of the '60s) and too-easy solutions. What do you know -- venting in her journal makes Susanna feel better!
The movie may strike a chord with teenage (and maybe even twentysomething) girls who feel they're experiencing the same kind of persecution in their lives, and from that purging-mechanism point of view I can see how it might have some appeal. But if you don't already have something in common with Susanna, the whole experience will likely feel trite.