Are You With Us?: Girl, Interrupted
By Ryan Mazie
December 21, 2011
The evolution of Angelina Jolie is surely a fascinating one. From universal sex symbol to serious actress to action star and now – director/writer/producer, Angelina Jolie is an actress I will never get tired of watching. This weekend’s limited release of In the Land of Blood and Honey marks her debut as a force behind the cameras, scripting and directing a love story set during the Bosnian War with unflinching gory details according to early reviews. On the same Christmas weekend, another Jolie film that marked a turn in her career as an actress that had more substance than her looks was released in select theaters – Girl, Interrupted.
For being a Jolie fan, I surprised myself, realizing that I have never seen the movie. But then again, a 1960s female-driven drama set in a mental asylum didn’t really sound all that enticing (but if you replace "drama" with "stylized action pic," then hello Sucker Punch!).
Originally supposed to be a showcase vehicle for Winona Ryder, it was hijacked by Jolie’s powerfully chilling performance that makes for one of movie’s most memorable villains (Angelina’s character of Lisa Rowe I find to be strangely absent from best villain lists). After seeing a character commit suicide, Lisa is indifferent to the hanging body of one of her ward mates and says, “Oh, what an idiot,” before picking her wallet (while she is still hanging). That’s some cold stuff.
Set in a private mental institution, Ryder plays Susanna Kaysen, a high school graduate with no intentions of going to college or fitting into societal norms. After a failed suicide attempt (chasing down a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka), Susanna, at the advice of her doctor, goes on an extended “rest,” signing herself into Claymore mental institution.
Filled with a girl who set herself on fire (Elisabeth Moss), a Daddy’s girl who can not eat in public (Brittany Murphy), a pathological liar (Clea DuVall), and a sociopath who runs the facility (Angelina Jolie), it is clear that Susanna does not have a problem in the company of these women. I found myself frequently asking throughout the movie whether Susanna even has a mental problem at all (she gets diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder).
Susanna does not want to leave the facility, forming a family with the girls, although in retrospect she realizes she wasted a year of her life lingering in the halls of Claymore.
Ambivalent is Susanna’s favorite word. And that is the word that can describe much of the film’s plot. I found the free-flowing, time jumping “plot structure,” to really go nowhere. Sure, it traces Susanna’s journey, but what does that really amount to when she is not mentally incompetent, but just a girl refusing to let go of adolescence to begin with?
The script reads more like Susanna’s diary entries than a novel (Ryder has a voice over where she reads her character’s generic epiphanies). In fact, I was surprised to see that Girl, Interrupted was based off of a memoir and Ryder’s Susanna Kaysen is actually a real woman (the author of the titular memoir). I guess to say that I found it surprising that this was a true story is an insult. Kaysen sure did, being a detractor of the film, saying that she “hated it” for being full of “melodramatic drivel.” She has a point. Whoopi Goldberg as the inspiration-spouting Nurse Valerie (because all of these types of films must has a wise, old figure) calls Claymore a “five-star resort.” I couldn’t agree more. Filled with more glitz than grit, Girl, Interrupted is too mainstream for its own good.