Jolie & Ryder make Whoopi
Whilst set in a psychiatric hospital it would be wrong to compare "Girl, Interrupted" to the likes of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", as they are two vastly different movies. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was about big drama as Jack Nicholson's R.P. McMurphy rallied against the system where as "Girl, Interrupted" is more of a character study. Adapted from Susanna Kaysen's memoirs, it is the story of Susanna who finds herself in Claymoore psychiatric hospital during the 60s after she tried to commit suicide. And we watch what she encounters during her time there, the friends she makes and how slowly she realised that it is through her own actions she can be released.
After downing a bottle of Aspirin and a bottle of Vodka Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder - Little Women) finds herself in hospital and a chat with a psychiatrist leads her to signing herself into Claymoore a private psychiatric hospital for a period of "rest". Initially struggling to come to terms with life in the hospital she soon finds herself fitting in with a group of other girls including the charismatic and dangerous Lisa (Angelina Jolie - The Good Shepherd). But is there really anything wrong with Susanna or is she becoming institutionalized by her stay in Claymoore.
Now I am going to get my one big criticism of "Girl, Interrupted" out of the way with early and that is for the first 20 minutes or so it is a little confusing. It's confusing because of sudden flashbacks encroaching on a scene so one minute we are watching Susanna being spoken to by a psychiatrist next we return to her high school graduation or a party at her parents home. I just didn't like this intro at all as whilst it establishes the character of Susanna and why she finds herself in a psychiatric hospital it all seems a little chaotic and messy. Maybe the messiness and confusion was intentional to symbolise the confusion in Susanna's head but personally it is the one real negative I have.
Aside from that criticism the rest of "Girl, Interrupted" works and with it being essentially a character study makes it quite fascinating. Watching how Susanna initially struggles with being in Claymoore, the daily medicine, the night time sleeping checks and so on really establishes what life was like in the hospital, whilst being relatively relaxed still had some form of regime. And then you get the next episode as Susanna settles down, becoming part of the gang and under the power of the dangerous Lisa Rowe. This episodic approach works marvellously as it allows Susanna to develop and we watch her change, events affecting how she reacts to things. And of course it goes on as through these events and the encouragement of nurse Valerie Owens she learns that she hasn't got some psychiatric condition, doesn't need any treatment just needs to basically buck up her own ideas and take control of her own life.
What is one of the nicest things is that through the various circumstances "Girl, Interrupted" poses some interesting questions. For example Susanna is classed as having a borderline personality disorder because she likes sleeping around yet from what we witness she is no more promiscuous than any teenage boy. It highlights how people were treated differently back in the 60s and attitudes to what was acceptable between sexes was certainly different. And at the same time it also deals with how people can become institutionalized, stuck in a psychiatric hospital because they find it comfortable and almost a safety net. But it never makes any great comment on these, just highlighting these issues and letting us make up our own minds.
The biggest reason why "Girl, Interrupted" ends up such a memorable and to be honest very good movie is down to two performances those of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. Ryder seems scarily in tune with her character, that feeling of being outside normality and what is conventional and really takes us on that journey of her life in Claymoore. At the same time Jolie is just as scarily in tune with her character delivering a captivating and forceful performances as charismatic sociopath Lisa Rowe. And whilst it is Ryder and Jolie who make "Girl, Interrupted" memorable the supporting performances from Brittany Murphy as Daisy Randone through to Whoopi Goldberg as Nurse Valerie Owens just make it all the more engrossing.
What this all boils down to is that "Girl, Interrupted" is a surprisingly good movie and gives us a different look at life inside a psychiatric hospital during the 60s. It is very much a character study and Winona Ryder leads the movie brilliantly delivering a completely believable performance as does Angelina Jolie whose charismatic sociopath blends sexy and scary in a captivating way.