Friday, July 2, 2010

Manic (2001)


Written by Michael Bacall & Blayne Weaver
Directed by Jordan Melamed

Lyle Jensen...Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Dr. David Monroe...Don Cheadle
Chad...Michael Bacall
Michael...Elden Henson
Tracy...Zooey Deschanel

After committing criminal assault with a baseball bat, Lyle Jensen is institutionalized until he can resolve his anger management problems. He is soon paired up in a room with Kenny (a young sex offender), befriends Chad (a secretly-wealthy, like-minded metalhead), makes enemies with Mike (a streetwise bully), and crushes on Tracy (a quiet rape victim with dangerously low self-esteem). The kids are all presided over by David, a caring doctor who has survived many of the same problems plaguing his patients.

What follows is essentially the viewer sitting in on a series of group therapy sessions, following the ups and downs of the patients as they fight themselves, fight each other, and adamantly deny that a problem exists. Light on plot but heavy on characterization, Manic is shot in an almost verite style, with dark shadows and grainy images and oft times shaky camera work. If you don’t mind the anti-steadycam (a la The Blair Witch Project), none of this will bother you, but many may complain of motion sickness. The dialogue appears sometimes improvised, seeming alternately starkly real and downright forced. Only the quick-cuts to Lyle’s flashbacks bothered me, like a rock music video you skim past while channel surfing.

Now, I’m a notorious hater of Third Rock From The Sun, but have (against all odds) become a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the years since that show went off the air.  His performance was so strong that he carried many of the less talented actors on his back. Don Cheadle was great, but then again he always is.  And let's face it, you can't go wrong with Zooey Deschanel, who I am totally in like with.

The house of cards analogy was beautifully done when it finally came down to it, even if I knew it was coming, and I appreciated not only the symbolism of Van Gogh, but also the comic book geek references to Wolverine, Superman and Batman. And, call me crazy (poor choice of words, I know), but I couldn’t help but detect a few traces of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest scattered here and there, primarily during the impromptu mosh pit scene, of all things.

Diehard horror fans may not appreciate the film, but if you like the faux-reality and are able to bank more on characters than chaos, you might find this of interest.  Speaking as someone who can relate to many of the issues dealt with here, this is a dark and disturbing account of mental instability (albeit not without its silver lining.) The filmmakers either really knew their stuff or were damn good at faking their way through it.

Rated R
100 Minutes
United States

"i am human"

1 comment:

  1. I get One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest vibes in all mental hospital flicks.

    I watched Third Rock solely for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as I did this (despite my burning hatred for shaky cam and non-Teddy facial hair), also, him and Zooey Deschanel pre-adorable-500-Days-of-Summer-pairing.

    What happened to the rest of the young cast, anyway? One of them is in with Quentin Tarantino, I know, but I can't remember where anyone else went.


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