Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Manic (2003)

Aaah, hell. I was so set to give this a glowing recommendation, despite its inclusion of several things that generally annoy me. Therapy movies are hit-and-miss with me, but this remains compelling because it doesn't subscribe to the idea that once the one big traumatic experience is dealt with then everything gets better. (Like Don Cheadle says, "It's not gonna be all pizzas and blowjobs.") These kids are fucked-up, and most likely they are going to be fucked-up for some time. In this light, the shaky DV camera work, rather than detracting, actually adds to the experience -- it makes the whole film feel one step away from total nervous collapse. And the fine character crafting from all parties (especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, my new favorite young actor) drags the film past some potential pitfall spots. (The one scene in particular that should be embarassing -- the impromptu mosh to The Deftones' "Headup" -- in fact works perfectly, because it's both viewed within the film and expressed by the actors not as hostility or danger but as catharsis.) For about an hour and ten minutes, it feels honest and true, even if at its base it's merely aping dozens of other films. What goes up must come down, though, and what goes so right for the film's first two-thirds falls totally apart in the final third. The melodrama gets too thick to be navigated (the scene with the knife was ill-advised) and the film gets unsure of where to walk, leading up to one of those running-man endings that does nothing other than prove that the director has seen The 400 Blows. Most damagingly, the careful symbolism that had been placed within the mise-en-scene curdles into heavy-handedness. It's one thing to show a brief shot of a character reading "The Myth of Sisyphus"; it's quite another to have two characters explicitly debate the meaning of a Van Gogh painting and then have that painting turn up twice in the last half-hour. Yes, we understand, now could you get out of the way and let us watch the movie? Thanks.

Grade: C+


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