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Girl, Interrupted

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Girl, Interrupted

Starring: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie
Director: James Mangold
Rated: R
RunTime: 127 Minutes
Release Date: January 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Clea Duvall, Brittany Murphy, Elizabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Travis Fine

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

This adolescent female version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a bit of a grim ordeal, although, ultimately, it is uplifting.

Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder) is a victim of the '60's, a time when America was undergoing its own identity crisis. Vietnam, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, youth rebellion were all helping to shape a new generation, largely misunderstood and misjudged by parents and authority figures. This was a time when women were also seeking out a more significant role for themselves beyond merely becoming dutiful wives and mothers.

Because Susanna had no real idea of what she wanted to do with her future, apart from some vague notion of becoming a writer, her concerned parents sent her to a psychiatrist. She diagnosed with a Borderline Personality Disorder, a vague clinical analysis that could apply to almost any troubled teenager at that time, and sent to Claymoore, a local sanatorium, for a couple of years. There she met a number of other young women with various mental disorders, against which she tries to judge her own problems.

For nearly two years Susanna tries not to succumb to her grim environment and the general air of despair and hopelessness that pervades the hospital. Throughout the film Susanna is depicted as a sort of latter day Dorothy trapped in her own bizarre Oz but trying to find her way home, and the film draws some obvious parallels. The inmate who has the biggest impact on her though is Lisa (Angelina Jolie, from The Bone Collector, etc), the self destructive but somehow charming and persuasive sociopath who is constantly escaping from Claymoore. Fittingly, Jolie dominates the film with a combustible, volatile and dynamic performance.

Ryder delivers a solid, but introspective and soulful performance as the bewildered, passive Susanna, who finds a sort of sanity in her writing. For Ryder, this film has been something of a labour of love, and has some personal resonances for her. For the past six years, she has nurtured the project, and has been largely instrumental in helping to bring Susanna's inspiring story to the screen.

Writer/director James Mangold (Heavy, Copland) is a dab hand at character driven dramas, and he does a fine job of adapting Kaysen's rather episodic book for the screen. He eschews any sense of saccharine sentimentality, giving this roller coaster ride a hard edge that occasionally makes for harrowing viewing. He has assembled a solid ensemble supporting cast to help bring these disturbed but fascinating characters to life.

Brittany Murphy plays the pampered, tragic Daisy, while Elisabeth Moss brings a poignant quality to her role as burns victim Polly, whose spirit remains unscarred. Vanessa Redgrave has a small role as Dr Wick, the understanding head psychiatrist, while Whoopi Goldberg delivers one of her more earnest and less irritating performances as Valerie, the understanding, compassionate nurse.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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