This is a look at how society deals with teenagers with mental illnesses and the need to control them while they themselves are seeking their own internal control.
Release Date: 23 May 2003 (USA)
Director: Joran Melamed
Writer: Michael Bacall, Blayne Weaver
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Cheadle, Zooey Deschanel, Cody Lightning
This is a look at how society deals with teenagers with mental illnesses and the need to control them while they themselves are seeking their own internal control. The film was heavily researched and based on fact with the actors all being mentored by their contemporaries who were genuinely suffering from mental illness to give a rare sense of verisimilitude to an often difficult subject.
Joseph Gordon –Levitt plays Lyle to the best of his ability and rises to the challenge of a nuanced part with lots of subtleties with great skill and talent. Unfortunately is slightly overshadowed by Zooey Deschanel who effortlessly steals every scene she graces with her presence as a depressed young woman with terrible self esteem problems, though she possesses a great inner strength which manifests itself as kindness to others. She’s horribly destructive to herself but it’s a brave and heartening character to watch in that she never extends that destruction outwards. Michael Bacall is also great as the dysfunctional Chad, and don Cheadle as Dr Monroe is great, showing the inner conflicts of a man who has to be strong for his young charges. In fact, all of the cast are excellent, there isn’t a weak link amongst them which is good because that would have pulled the audience out of the narrative quite badly. There is a nice subplot involving Lyle and a character called Mike, neither of whom can except the fact that they see in the other exactly what they hate about themselves.
All set within the confines of the Northwoods Mental Institution in California, the film is about how these people’s lives slip out of control, with a general feeling that for every step forwards they take, they are dragged two steps back. As such it should be depressing and wearying but Monroe’s humane behaviour to his patients, making sure they are treated and that we see them as human beings rather than as the collection of symptoms that often characterise the perception of mental illness.
It’ all shot on digital video which gives the movie a documentary starkness underlining the believability of the performances and is challenging to watch but an incredibly rewarding experience. Watch it at all costs and see if it changes your mind about a few things….