Girl, Interrupted tells the real-life story of Susanna Kaysen, who wrote the original memoir about her enforced stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. She was banged up after a pills overdose for what was termed a “borderline personality disorder” but the suspicion remains that she was being incarcerated at least partly because she was young, rebellious and pissing off her parents.
Director James Mangold’s film version turns the whole experience slightly into One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest redone as a 1960s Mean Girls drama. Instead of shock therapy there’s the withdrawal of TV privileges, straitjackets have largely been replaced by attentive, pleasant carers. And as for debilitating doses of recreational drugs smuggled in by visitors, there are none. Instead this hospital’s internal black market deals almost entirely in laxatives. Girls, huh.
Winona Ryder plays Kaysen as a teenager incarcerated for wanting to do her own thing. So not actually wacko at all. That role goes to Angelina Jolie, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a girl dealing with psychiatric demons (the Academy does love a sociopath). If it sounds awfully fragrant and a touch like a boarding school melodrama, Girl, Interrupted does have its compelling elements too. Instead of going for Jack Nicholson-style shouting and eye-rolling, it focuses on the intimate and, with calmly assured direction, Mangold teases out small but intensely personal dramas, played out by a cast of names (Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeffrey Tambor) and up-and-comers (Jared Leto, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss). But it’s hard to ignore the charge that it is all a bit too girly. There’s even a midnight feast, for God’s sake. As for the book’s author, she hated it. Girls in their mid-teens might think otherwise.
© Steve Morrissey 2013