Combustible Celluloid
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With: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Vanessa Redgrave, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bettis
Written by: James Mangold, Lisa Loomer, Anna Hamilton Phelan, based on the book by Susanna Kaysen
Directed by: James Mangold
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality and suicide
Running Time: 127
Date: 12/08/1999

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Tale of Insanity Too Sane

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Girl, Interrupted starts out with a scene of what looks like ahandful of young female junkies holed up in a dark basement somewhere.The scene is just unbalanced enough that it sucks us in to the movie. Itgets us wondering who these people are and how they got there. But asthe movie progresses, and we meet all the characters in broad daylight,we realize that they never really pop. By the time the opening scene isexplained to us, we're ready to go home, but much of the movie is yet tofollow.

Set in the 1960's Girl, Interrupted, stars Winona Ryder as Susanna Kaysen, a well-off young girl who chases a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of booze. She's placed in an asylum to figure out why she's so lost and sad. The cab driver who brings her there tells her with a jovial laugh that "everyone is sad." Inside, we meet the requisite movie characters with their problems that can be easily described or digested in one scene. (One girl eats nothing but chicken and hides the bones under her bed. Another has a burn scar on her face from a childhood trauma.) Of course, when a group scene is necessary, all the problems conveniently go away. Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie plays the outrageous leader of the place, the one who is the most entertainingly loopy. Ryder and Jolie become fast friends and raise all kinds of havoc.

Written and directed by James Mangold (Heavy, Cop Land), Girl, Interrupted feels like competent filmmaking, but it also feels stale. I think the reason for this is that the main character (Ryder) is so morose, and the most interesting character, Jolie, is only seen from the outside. We never really get to know her. She's the R.P. MacMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) but taken to the sidelines while we follow Billy Bibbit instead. It's an interesting idea, but not as gripping.

The movie comes from Kaysen's book, a diary about her real-life experiences. That's where the trouble begins. Mangold is trying to create a slate of full characters using one point of view, and that point of view is questionable at best. So we end up getting thin supporters as seen through the eyes of a main character that doesn't do anything. It helps that Jolie, and in smaller roles, Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave, give dynamic performances. It's too bad that such a potentially powerful woman's story is treated so flatly. Instead of paying full price for this one I would recommend waiting for DVD or cable.

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