Girl, Interrupted, starring some of the best young actresses working, is a well-acted drama that rates up there with I Never Promised You A Rose Garden in the pantheon of troubled teenage girl films.
Winona Ryder portrays Susanna Kaysen, a young woman in 1967 who, at her parents’ behest, commits herself to a posh sanitarium. She is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, “manifested by uncertainty about self-image, long-term goals, types of friends or lovers to have, and which values to adopt.” Of course, that just sounds like what being a teenager is all about. As we are to discover, however, Susanna embarrassed her family by being “sexually promiscuous” (although she was seduced by an older man) and declaring she wants to be a writer rather than attend college.
In the ward, Susanna befriends Lisa (Angelina Jolie), a dangerous, sexy, potty-mouthed sociopath, Daisy (Brittany Murphy), a suicidal bulimic, Polly (Elisabeth Moss), a horribly-disfigured burn victim and Georgina (Clea Duvall), a pathological liar. Together, they have a series of alternately hilarious and harrowing adventures that ultimately end in tragedy and send Susanna on a downward spiral. The only one who truly believes she is not crazy is Nurse Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg), who has worked at the State Mental Hospital and knows from crazy.
Winona Ryder, looking her Mia-Farrow-circa-Rosemary’s-Baby waifish best, delivers one of the most textured performances of her career, playing Susanna with dignity and respect for the maelstrom of emotional problems she was enduring. The always-brilliant Angelina Jolie tackles another bad girl role, becoming the wild-eyed Lisa. Brittany Murphy and Clea Duvall are wonderfully subtle and truthful in their roles as touched young women.
Girl, Interrupted seems initially to be an indictment of the mental health profession, incriminating the pseudo-science of psychiatry itself, pointing out the “doctors” of that profession as the charlatans and snake oil salesman they are. Echoes of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and King Of Hearts reverberate in the beginning of Girl, Interrupted, the subversive sentiment challenging sanity applauded by the audience. However, the film becomes somewhat schizophrenic. The very psychobabble we have come to scorn becomes the protagonist’s saving grace.
Director James Mangold adapted Girl, Interrupted from Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical memoirs with co-writer Lisa Loomer. The film is slow-moving at times, but seems to be intentionally lethargic to give the sense of surreal timelessness in the sanitarium. While the acting is outstanding, the film itself has the feel of a made-for-television drama--a very good one, and one with lots of cussing, but movie-of-the-week nonetheless.
DVD BONUS MATERIALS:
A really nice package, especially for teenage girls who may want to re-enact their favorite mental illnesses from the film, accompanied by the score.