"Jolie single-handedly saves the film from a ponderous seizure."
The translation of Susanna Kaysen’s text into film was always going to be a tough task for James Mangold (Copland). Due to the metaphysical nature of the book, the chances of a dynamic film were slim, but with the starlet double-barrel of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, it was always an appetizing prospect. It’s the transitional sixties, and Kaysen (Ryder) is harshly conscripted to an all girl nuthouse for being nothing more than an insecure and misunderstood girl. While there she meets a group of misfits suffering a series of mental disorders, to whom she attempts to rationalise her own supposed craziness.Ryder fails to inject the desired intensity or empathy into the role of Kaysen, which is a serious handicap for the film from the outset. Seen through the eyes of the self-important prattler, events become a tad tedious. Until, that is, a police car turns up to the loony bin and drops off the brooding Lisa (Jolie). The appearance of Lisa, the psychotically charged sociopath, jolts the film into a new gear. It’s a performance so intense that the blood Jolie injects into the veins of her character single-handedly saves the film from a ponderous seizure.
The episodic nature of the film never really throws up any memorable set pieces. It’s all left up to Jolie, but the decorative misfit bystanders leave the impression that she’s acting into a void. Unfortunately, it is Kaysen who is pivotal to the film’s intrigue, but you’re never really drawn into her mind where the premise of the film lives.
The film may seek asylum under the defence of being a complex “chick flick”, but it is fundamentally guilty of having confused motives.The resolution offers no enlightenment. Susan is offered salvation, while the liberating spirit of Lisa is misjudged and chastised. This goes against the justice the audience should rightly feel. It leaves you ultimately frustrated, although by this stage you’re just glad it’s all over. ---David Michael