Bill’s Wife Knows Best Marathon: Girl, Interrupted (1999)

The final film in the marathon is of course all about boobies and lesbians!

Screenplay By: Anna Hamilton Phelan, Lisa Loomer, & James Mangold
Directed By: James Mangold

I know that most people came away from Girl, Interrupted convinced the film was about mental health on the whole. I won’t deny that there are traces of that in the film, there are times when James Mangold’s feature does attempt to tackle the mental health issue in America. However, for the most part I did not find Girl, Interrupted to be about mental health in America. Rather, I read the film as one woman’s tale of her experiences in a mental health institution and how that helped her to realize she didn’t really belong there.

I come into Girl, Interrupted biased, and I know my bias is showing. I deal with mental institutions on a weekly basis. As an EMT I take people to various mental health facilities throughout Illinois. I get to see the truth of these institutions when I am there. I can say that in that regard Girl, Interrupted is both honest and archaic. The sad state of affairs is that someone like the character of Daisy who does need a good deal of help in an institution would no longer receive that help today. She would stay the court mandated thirty days and be gone because her health insurance would not cover any more than that for someone who on the outside appears to be able to function in the real world. In that sense Girl, Interrupted presents and archaic look at the way mental health is treated in this country. However, the character of Susanna is very true to what I still see every week. She’s not institution worthy, she’s simply someone who is lost and needs to find her way. Society is not accepting of people who are lost, and there is a deep honesty in the way Susanna is punished for being lost throughout the film.

It is the character of Susanna who also happens to represent the greatest weakness of the film. I’m neither a fan or a detractor of Winona Ryder, but I can say that the role of Susanna was a role beyond her grasp. She’s able to pin down the quiet moments, but in the moments where she must be loud physically or vocally she falls flat. One key moment is her attempt at egging on Whoopi Goldberg’s nurse Valerie. I get what the moment was going for, but Miss Ryder was too small and mousy when she was supposed to be loud and lashing out. Miss Ryder’s performance was uneven in that way, and when stacked up against the performances of Brittany Murphy, Angelina Jolie, or Clea DuVall it doesn’t measure up.

I did love the narrative style employed by Mr. Mangold and company. It’s not a true fractured narrative, but the broken way in which we are treated to the memories of Susanna does allow us a glimpse into a fractured mind. It’s not a sick mind, but it’s a mind that is lost and confused. The narrative of the film follows suit, it is purposely lost and confused, placing the viewer in the same state as the main character. Mr. Mangold does not go flashy with Girl, Interrupted, instead he adopts a reserved visual style that is in keeping with the atmosphere of the mental institution of Claymoore. The way the mind of Susanna is tackled adds style to the film, but Mr. Mangold doesn’t rely on style to tell his story.

Girl, Interrupted is a flawed film, but it is an admirable attempt at telling one woman’s tale of a lost and confusing period of her life. The supporting performances help to buoy a sometimes lacking lead performance from Miss Ryder. The narrative is strong and the subject matter is interesting. I did find myself thinking quite a bit about the ideas and methods of Girl, Interrupted long after the film had finished. In my mind that is always the sign of a quality film. It may be flawed but in my sometimes confused mind there’s no denying that Girl, Interrupted is a quality film.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

Sarah’s Soapbox

Girl, Interrupted is a movie about how normal it can be to be crazy sometimes. At least that is how I always took it. The main character Susanna is convinced to go to a mental institution for a “rest” after an incident that everyone is convince was a suicide attempt, despite her denials. She is lost, confused, just sort of drifting along unable to find herself. She gets lost in thought often and almost forgets where she is at times. She truly seems crazy at first. That is, until she is institutionalized and you see her compared to people who are truly mentally ill. When this happened, I felt at least, that you see that she is not mentally ill, she is just a lost woman who needs to find herself. The film almost justifies the occasional harmless insane thoughts or actions that a person might have with the way it portrays Susanna, or maybe that is me actually being slightly insane myself.

Besides Girl, Interrupted being thought provoking, I found it to be very entertaining. Winona Ryder as Susanna was very convincing in her role, as were all of the other characters. I especially enjoyed Angelina Jolie as a very realistic sociopath. But, pretty much all of the characters were interesting and convincing in their roles. The story stays interesting, despite the lack of forward momentum during much of the movie. None of the “surprise” events were ever anything that I didn’t see coming long before they occurred, but it never made the movie boring. Girl, Interrupted is a movie that speaks to me in many different ways. That is why I enjoy revisiting it quite often.

Rating:

***

-Sarah

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