Rated R - Running Time: 2:07 - Released 12/21/99

In 1975, Milos Forman gave us the memorable film One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, telling the story of life in a mental hospital from the point of view of one of the patients. James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted, based on the autobiographical story of author Susanna Kaysen (screen adaptation by Mangold and Lisa Loomer and Anna Hamilton Phelan), strikes a similar tone; this time the main character is female. It allows Wynona Ryder a starring role as the young author, and also marks Ryder's first foray into producing. Her fine performance is complemented by an excellent turn from Angelina Jolie, playing a fellow inmate, and also by Whoopi Goldberg as the head nurse on the ward.

The story of Girl, Interrupted is not anything particularly astounding; since it is apparently a straightforward account of actual events, it lacks the flash of a Hollywood screenplay. But that's a good thing. Susanna, a young would-be writer, enters Claymoore Hospital in the late 1960s after attempting suicide and being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Although she denies being "crazy," she does admit to seeing and feeling things she doesn't understand, and her journal is full of cryptic passages that cause alarm among her family. Consequently, she is forced to take stupefying medication, live under constant supervision, and deal with the prison-like social situation among the patients. However, after some time, she establishes friendships with some of her fellows. Lisa (Jolie) is a brash troublemaker (not unlike Jack Nicholson's Randall P. McMurphy from Cuckoo), who has established herself as the dominant member of the group by psychologically abusing the other women if and when possible. She has escaped on more than one occasion — only to be arrested, sedated, and returned to the hospital.

Among the other patients Susanna gets to know are Georgina (Clea DuVall), who lives in a fantasy world where she pictures herself as Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz; Daisy (King Of The Hill's Brittany Murphy), who stays in her room and never admits anyone else except her overly loving father and his famous roasted chicken; and Polly (Elizabeth Moss), nicknamed "Torch" because she once set herself afire, disfiguring her face almost beyond recognition. During her 1½-year stay at Claymoore, Susanna is influenced by all these people and goes through many conflicting feelings about her need for psychotherapy and her lack of faith in the hospital's professional staff. Finally, she has an experience which sets her on the road to recovery.

Girl, Interrputed is not without weak points. Among its flaws are some hard-to-swallow plot elements, like the fact that the patients occasionally seem to have the run of the place, breaking into the facility's main office, perusing their own psych records, and even bowling without being discovered. Escape and elusion of the guards seem remarkably commonplace, as does trading medications with little or no consequence. And the final reel, involving a character's 180-degree attitude change, seems oversimplified. Mangold's dialogue is mostly convincing, however, and the acting by Ryder, Jolie, and Goldberg is excellent enough to forgive the problems inherent in the script. ****½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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