November 29, 2015
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Grade: 57/100

Director: James Mangold
Stars: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Brittany Murphy

What it's about. Based on the memoir of novelist Susanna Kaysen, and set in the late 1960s in a New England mental hospital. Depressed and antisocial Winona Ryder attempts suicide soon after her high school graduation. "That '70s Show" dad Kurtwood Smith convinces Ryder to check herself into the neighborhood monkey ward, while her well-to-do family is stuck with the bill. Whoopi Goldberg is a no-nonsense aide, Jeffrey Tambor is a surprisingly nice psychiatrist, and Vanessa Redgrave is the head doctor.

Ryder rooms with meek Clea DuVall and soon finds herself near the top of the pecking order among the floor's young female patients, along with obnoxious troublemaker Angelina Jolie. Brittany Murphy is an eccentric who won't let anyone in her room and shuns the cafeteria in favor of her father's rotisserie chicken.

Because it is a movie, Jolie often escapes from the asylum, but once the cops catch up to her, she is returned there. Once she goes on a typically ill-planned adventure with Ryder, which for the latter comes to a sudden traumatic end. This is the turning point to the film; thereafter Ryder decides to play nice in the hopes she can recover and get released.

How others will see it. Girl, Interrupted was a breakout film for Angelie Jolie, who received numerous festival awards for her aggressive performance. In effect, the movie did for her what Foxfire should have accomplished three years earlier. Despite Jolie's hammy performance, Girl, Interrupted was not a box office hit, but its star-studded cast has boosted the user vote total to 118K. imdb user ratings decline with the advancing age of the viewer, but in all age groups, women like the movie more than do men, despite its presence of several pretty young faces.

How I felt about it. Winona Ryder's long 12-year run (1988 to 1999) as Hollywood's goth "it" girl came to an end with the present movie, her last successful role as a film's youthful lead. The torch is symbolically handed off to Jolie, who stole all her scenes and even secured an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Jolie advanced to A-list glory, while Ryder was convicted of felony theft and barely avoided prison time. Life imitated art as Ryder suffered from depression and was prescribed psychiatric drugs by a doctor. But things were better for her than for Brittany Murphy, whose real-life death was almost as tragic as her onscreen demise here.

I have also spend some time pondering Whoopi Goldberg. She appears to play herself in every movie, except her first one, The Color Purple, where she actually had to act. It is true, though, that Goldberg's plainspoken, common-sense personality can be worked into most movies, and typically makes them better.

As for the movie. It seems hard to believe that Ryder is in the psychiatric hospital for only one year, given all that goes down. It also seems unlikely that Murphy would commit suicide, given that her antagonistic house guests will soon be gone. Jolie and company are able to secretly party at night, and escape from the facility, all too easily. The staff also go easy on Ryder, who acts up considerably. Jolie is instead the whipping boy for physical restraints and electric shocks.

We are also surprised that Vanessa Redgrave is, in addition to her psychiatric expertise, a Latin scholar who can explain the exact distant Roman origins of "ambivalent" upon a moment's notice. The shock of seeing Murphy stretch her neck appears to be the turning point for Ryder's cure; she becomes the ideal patient thereafter. Sarcasm alert: perhaps the staff should arrange mock hangings to traumatize the inmates into normalcy.

Finally, it seems unlikely that bad girl Jolie will become silent and ashamed upon Ryder calling her "dead," particularly since Jolie considers herself the opposite, more alive than anyone else.

Girl, Interrupted is almost good for most of its run-time, then drags somewhat during the final reel once Ryder decides to conform (i.e. submit to treatment) instead of rebel (i.e. imitate Jolie). While it was wise behavior for Ryder to make the change, her new improved docile personality is less interesting than the girl who seduces hospital staff and plays sidekick to Jolie.