The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 7, 2000
Wide Angle

Girl Interrupted is patchy
By Ervell E. Menezes

OSCAR-WINNING films are now trying to cash in on the hype. Girl, Interrupted is the film which won Angelina Jolie the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and she fully deserved in the same manner in which Hillary Swank deserved the Best Actress Oscar in "Boys Don’t Cry", but the film is a mixed bag, and is good in parts. Maybe the best part of it is the recreation of those late 1960s when everything was anti-Establishment. There were anti-Vietnam war protests, flower power, Woodstock and the moon-landing. It was a decade of change when teenagers were confused, insecure and trying to make sense of the rapidly changing world, and their parents were rarely around to help them. Many of the teenagers were more sinned against than sinning.

"Girl, Interrupted" is the story of one such teenager, Susanna Keyson (Winona Ryder), who spent two years (the years that interrupted her normal life) in a mental hospital because her parents were able to fix it with the hospital authorities. Susanna meets other teenagers in Claymore Hospital in a similar predicament, also committed to it by their parents. There’s Lisa (Angelina Jolie), a charming sociopath who keeps trying unsuccessfully to escape. Then there is Daisy (Brittany Murphy), a pampered daddy’s girl who pigs out of chicken and laxatives, and Polly (Elisabeth Moss) who is a victim of burns probably self-inflicted.

  Winona Ryder and Jared Leto in Girl, InterruptedLooking after them is the no-nonsense nurse Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg), and the head psychiatrist Dr Wick (Vanessa Redgrave). The stage is now set for a female One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and that is the film’s biggest problem: imitating a classic. Based on a novel by Susanna Keyson, two decades after her nightmarish teenage hiatus, the story has enough potential to absorb the viewer, but director James Mangold, who also co-scripted the film, tends to lose his bearings along the way.

Granted, there is quite an assortment of characters to provide variety, but the high-jinks the girls indulge in seem contrived. The female camaraderie bit comes across strongly, and it is this bonding, the film seems to say, that works against their trying to go back to the real world. In fact it likens it to the predicament of Dorothy and her make-believe world of The Wizard of Oz. The psychiatry bit is weak, and the drama is magnified.

The recreation of the 60s, too, isn’t very successful. It is not enough to show pictures of Robert Kennedy’s election campaign and the radio announcement of Martin Luther King’s death. In fact 1968 was such an eventful year, and there was so much more to show for authenticity.

And while it focuses on the drug-addicted teenagers, it seems to forget the uncaring parents. Actually the 1960s period isn’t too easy to capture, but the TV serial The Wonder Years does an excellent job of it. Winona Ryder has always been a versatile actress, and in this film (she is also co-producer) her closeness to the subject is apparent, but it is Angelina Jolie who steals the thunder with her impeccable performance. There are good cameos by Brittany Murphy and Elisabeth, but Whoopi Goldberg seems to be miscast (as she was in the Deep End of the Ocean, and Vanessa Redgrave’s presence is merely academic.

But despite its shortcomings, Girl, Interrupted deals with an important part of American and world history, and for that reason it has documentary value.

A long story

Lue Besson’s Joan of Arc has some good contemporary touches, but its length and long-drawn out war scenes work against it. The subtleties are also lost in the surfeit of action. I remember Besson’s Subway in the mid-1980s, it was a brilliant thriller with Christopher "Greystroke Tarzan" Lambeth in the lead role. His Nikita too, was excellent, but not The Fifth Element. "Joan of Arc" is at best patchy.

Milla Jovovich in Joan of ArcThe story of the French peasant girl who led her country to war against England and was able to crown the Dauphen as King of France has been told often enough to warrant repetition. So is her unfortunate death being burned at the stake as a sorceress. It only shows how a simple peasant girl who believed she heard the voices of God was eventually forsaken by both the Royalty and the clergy.

Besson’s fault is that he tried to pack in too much detail. He is more concerned with form than content. As for the war scenes, they could well have been edited by half. The best touch was the voice of conscience when the forsaken girl speaks with her conscience (represented by Dustin Hoffman).

Milla Jovovich, the Species girl, puts all she has into the role and her simplicity comes across strongly, but John Malcovich, an otherwise brilliant actor, seems out of his element as the man who would be king. Dustin Hofman’s rule is too brief, but Faye Dunaway seems to enjoy her role as a matriarch and handles it with panache.

This feature was published on April 30, 2000