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Girl Interrupted

The 1960's. A time of turmoil, social unrest and a changing attitude amongst Americans as to what is "normal" and what is "abnormal". In the midst of this, a young woman, misunderstood by parents whose attitudes are rooted in the 50's mentality prevalent at the time, is committed to a mental institution for not fitting in. What could have been a really moving story (and I'm told it is in book form) was a luke-warm trip through a bleak psychiatric landscape.

Susanna (Winona Ryder) is a young woman lost in her contemplation of herself, her life, her surroundings and her place in the world. Moody and seemingly despondent, she is placed in a Mental Institution for treatment. There, she meets a plethora of "real" mentally ill patients, the most disturbing of which is Lisa (Angelina Jolie). Lisa befriends Susanna initially, but soon shows herself to be the embodiment of anti-establishment belief and behavior. The movie follows Susanna's trip down into purgatory as Lisa's newest recruit, and shows the darker side of life inside an institution.

Unfortunately, what could have been a wonderfully poignant film about a young woman re-discovering herself amidst the chaos of a mental institution, turns out to be a soapbox for the establishment with a bit of artful chaos thrown in. The characters all have the same washed-out feeling that the screen conveys with its muted coloring and faded visual attitudes. The institution takes on the feeling of a prison, where the inmates, instead of rioting, spend their time in semi-machiavellian pursuits, playing their friends off one another while trying to duck the representatives of the "establishment", the nurses, doctors and administrators.

Don't get me wrong, there are some good performances. Whoopi Goldberg is wonderful, as she always is, as the one nurse who shows any real kind of inner strength, compassion and understanding to Susanna as she tries to find her way back. Vanessa Redgrave is both detestable and likable as the Head of the Institution. Jolie is amazing in her portrayal of Lisa, but I fear that she may be being typecast, considering her roles in Hackers, Gina and other films where the characters are all "misfits" of one type or another.

Overall, this film would have been fabulous if it had not tried so hard to achieve its supposed goal of becoming not just film, but "art" as well. When pretension overcomes substance, the medium suffers, as it did in this case. Well acted, well directed, just poorly adapted for the screen, "Girl Interrupted" shows what perils lie in adapting literature for the screen: you might make a film that just depresses everyone from every conceivable angle.

I give this film a C-. If you like dark films, if you like films that leave you walking out of the theatre shaking your head and wondering if your choice of viewing for that evening was such a good idea, go see this film. If not, rent "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and stay home to see a film that tends to its subject matter in a fashion that actually delivers some modicum of entertainment.


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