There is something many filmgoers find special about autobiographical films, they are usually more forgiving about the plot. After all, even the most interesting life has some rather dull moments. Girl, Interrupted is this type of movie. Based upon the diaries of writer Susanna Kaysen made during her two year stay at an upscale mental institution, this film tries hard to be its own movie yet people are all too eager to compare it to One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest. To a limited degree such comparisons are valid. There is the nurse that represents authority, the free spirit patient that gets everyone else in trouble and the innocent that is changed forever. That is where the comparison should end. Girl, probes a different approach to this story. Susanna (Winona Ryder) is sent to Claymoore, a very posh mental health facility, after taking a bottle of aspirin and washing it down with a bottle of vodka. Since her family has enough money she can interrupt her life for a couple of years in order to learn how to cope. The film only touches on the stresses that lead to her self-destructive actions. They seem to include her infatuation with sex, feeling isolated from her family and a lack of real friends. Since this story came from the dairy of a teenage girl I would expect the initial truths to be glossed over. Susanna soon finds herself among some rather unusual characters. There is her roommate Georgina (Clea Du Vall) a pathological liar, Polly (Elisabeth Moss) a girl that self immolated herself to remove a rash, Daisy (Brittany Murphy) who is abused by her father and Lisa (Angelina Jolie) a charismatic sociopath. The story meanders like the diary it came from. Often, a comment or sight will propel Susanna into her memories which gives the film a chronologically discontinuous feel that helps the viewer to relate to disconnection that Susanna feels.
While the film does not provide the development of the characters it might have enjoyed, the cast does a good job of holding attention. Of course, Joiles Oscar winning performance stands out far above the rest. She has grown rapidly from such awful roles as Hackers and Playing God. Her recent roles like Gia and Wallace have given this gifted actress a chance to surpass her Oscar winning father, Jon Voight. Joile can convey more emotion with a single glance than most actors can do in a whole film. Ryder is best at underplayed roles. While not a good a performance as she gave in Reality Bites, Ryder still manages to keep you attention on the screen and set up other excellent performances by the rest of the cast. Of course, Whoopie Goldberg is great as the head nurse. She adds just the right amount of humor to the otherwise uneven script. The real breakout performance was by Brittany Murphy. Best known for a lot of television and for her role in Clueless, Murphys Daisy is one of the more touching characters. The emotional showdown between Lisa and Daisy is the one true turning point in the film.
James Mangold directed this film with his usual skill. I was first impressed with Mangold after watching his 1995 independent film Heavy. He is excellent on his ability to tell the story of the underdog. This was expanded in his film Cop Land. Mangold seems to plan his films in detail and doesnt rush the story. In some ways this makes the film appear to drag a bit but hey, life does that sometimes. In Girl his pacing could have been a bit more even to help carry the rather weak story line. Mangold is technically superior as a director. He sets up each shot with a true eye for composition. The score is well balanced and makes surprisingly good use of all six channels.
The disc is excellent. There is a directors commentary that will help explain some of Mangolds decisions during the filming. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video transfer is consistently clean and vibrant. The Dolby 5.1 sound is exceptionally well mixed and provides a nice wide field. All in all this movie is worth the viewing and if you are a fan of great performances even in somewhat limited films then get this one and enjoy.