Girl, Interrupted

1999, Movie, R, 127 mins


HEATHERS made Winona Ryder the pallid patron saint of smart-mouthed teenage misfits; this adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's memoir of mental turmoil could make her the wide-eyed icon of the morose and self-destructive. In the late '60s, 18-year-old Kaysen (Ryder), paralyzed by alienated frustration, is persuaded to check into a mental hospital, where she's diagnosed as having a "borderline personality." Her fellow patients include secretive Daisy (Brittany Murphy), whose eating disorder springs from an unhealthy relationship with her father; sweet-natured Polly (Elizabeth Moss), disfigured by self-inflicted burns; compulsive liar Georgina (Clea Duvall) and anorexic Janet (Angela Bettis). And then there's willful, defiant Lisa (Angelina Jolie), whose enchanting, wild-child charisma masks sociopathic self-centeredness; she's the flame to which Susanna is inexorably drawn. There's very little plot, and director Mangold's attempts to make a connection between the social confusion of the '60s and Susanna's inner turmoil don't really work. The film's strength lies in the generally sensitive performances delivered by the ensemble cast. Kaysen's book apparently struck some deep, personal chord in Ryder; she committed to the project early and stuck with it throughout an attenuated development process; ironically, she plays its most passive role. Because the introverted Susanna is so recessive, it's easy to lose patience with her troubles — many (if not most) teenage girls are plagued by self-doubt and the sensation of drowning in complex and contradictory expectations; most aren't as smart and financially secure as Kaysen, or as beautiful as Ryder. Jolie, on the other hand, plays Lisa as a seductive monster; with her pillowy lips and cocky posture, she's like some demon of lethal sensuality. It's a stunning performance, though perhaps better suited to an erotic horror film (say, any of Barbara Steele's Italian films of the '60s); when Jolie's onscreen, everyone else might as well lie down and play dead. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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