James Mangold(1999, Columbia Pictures)
Starring Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, and Whoppi Goldberg
A young woman checks herself into an institution after trying to
January 5th, 2001 on Video
Although the movie took a
little long to get started, once it got there, it was great. For a story
about a bunch of crazy women, the tale was refreshing, fun, sad, and
I didn't like Winona Ryder's hair! But it was the late sixties, so what can I say? After swallowing a bottle of Aspirin, followed by a bottle of Vodka, Susanna is found near death. A psychiatrist convinces her to check herself into an institution. Once there, she sees that her life is nowhere near as bad as she thought it was, relatively speaking. I thought recovery would be swift in that case! But then she begins to identify with the other girls, and her condition gets worse, even though she doesn't think so. She develops friendships with them, and they all celebrate in their weaknesses.
Susanna befriends Lisa, the crazy young woman who controls the asylum. Lisa is aggressive, hyper, escapes all the time, and is able to steal keys to every room in the institution. We can see how Susanna can get caught up in the energy that Lisa provides. She describes Lisa's eyes as "magnetic", but from the outside, we can see that Lisa knows how to push all the buttons to make people do as she wishes. The psychiatrists are no help to most of these girls. Of course, they can only help the girls if the girls want to be helped.
The turnaround comes when Lisa convinces Susanna to escape with her, to go to Florida, to get a job at the new Disney resort. They spend a night at the house of a former "inmate", Daisy. As usual, Lisa pushes all the buttons that she can. She makes Daisy face the fact that she enjoys her incestuous relationship with her father, while at the same time she is ashamed of it. In the morning, Daisy commits suicide. Lisa leaves, nonplussed, but Susanna can't. She calls for an ambulance, and then returns to the institution. Lisa isn't found for several months.
During this time, Susanna is confronted by death itself, and then by the nurse/ doctor Valerie (Goldberg). She sees beyond the edge, finally, and realizes that she had better do something, or else she could end up like Daisy. And so she opens her heart and her life to the councilors. And she is discharged. Unfortunately, Lisa returns the day before Susanna is to leave. Lisa gets out of her confinement, and steals Susanna's journal, reading her opinions of the other girls to those girls. Everybody is shocked, and Susanna is ready to slide backwards again. But she finds it in herself, when she is backed up against the wall, to push Lisa's buttons. And that's when Lisa falls apart, and we know that Susanna is cured. She still might not know where she is going, but she has a handle on herself, which is an important first step.
The acting was great, by all parties involved. It is easy to see why Jolie received an Oscar for her role. The writing was well done, too. The dialog was snappy, and the characters were realistic. There was humour, aggression, and all the little things that make up human behaviour. There is one line where Susanna is seeing the psychiatrist with her parents, and she asks if her personality disorder is genetic. The looks on everybody's faces were terrific!
The whole movie was a roller-coaster ride. It went from uncertainty to hilarity, and there were some moments in the middle that were purely fun. It's easy to see how Susanna felt like she had come home by then. This is where she belonged. There was no responsibility. And therefore no life. The moments where she sang "Downtown" to her depressed friend was absolutely the most touching moment of the movie. It was the little things that made the movie so great. The girls seemed so... human.