Lyle Jensen is subject to sudden and violent outbursts, and he is committed to the juvenile wing of the Northwood Mental Institution. Several other youths are there with a variety of ...
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Chris is a once promising high school athlete whose life is turned upside down following a tragic accident. As he tries to maintain a normal life, he takes a job as a janitor at a bank, where he ultimately finds himself caught up in a planned heist.
Lyle Jensen is subject to sudden and violent outbursts, and he is committed to the juvenile wing of the Northwood Mental Institution. Several other youths are there with a variety of serious problems. Lyle interacts with other patients and staff on a human, and sometimes not so human level. The psychological problems of the patients also forms the fabric by which we see what's right with them, and what's wrong with the society that affects them. Written by
Scott from Milwaukee, WI, USA
"Manic" follows teenager Lyle (Joseph Gorden-Levitt) as he is sent into therapy to work on his serious anger management problem, having nearly killed a boy at his school with a baseball bat. The film follows his relationships within the small group, comprising of teenagers suffering mostly from depression or similar anger issues.
Similar to "thirteen" released a few years after this film, "Manic" was co-written by one of the teenagers (Michael Bacall) in the film (although presumably not from his own direct experiences) and this does give the script an authentic ring in terms of dialogue, subjects of discussion and a feel for contemporary American adolescence. Several genuine patients of similar therapy institutions play small roles here and the moments when they tell, presumably true stories, do lend an authentic feel. Unfortunately, the film never quite takes off dramatically. It's too stuck in 'realism' to turn into an outright escape narrative such as "One Flew..." or "Girl, interrupted".
Lyle makes plans to escape and dreams of travelling to Europe but it never forms a central plot to the film. Similarly a tentative romance with a girl in the group, Tracey (the marvellous Zooey Deschanel) is downplayed. There are strong sub-plots, such as an ongoing feud with gangster wannabee Michael (a very good Elden Henson) but the film doesn't address the fundamental issues in these kids lives preferring to just address the direct group dymanics rather than digging deeper. In fact the most distressing story is of Kenny, Lyle's quiet room-mate, who it turns out was abused by his apparently normal, caring father. Holding the film together is a fantastic Don Cheadle, as Dr Monroe, the compassionate yet strict group leader. Cheadle manages to give a layered performance that shows an obvious connection to the kids in his care, professional skill at helping them, a mild touch of cynicism as to the extent people really can change and hints of battling problems of his own.
It's an understandable decision not to over-dramatise events but by playing straight the film risks drifting into banality. The decision not to investigate in more depth the way the US, and Western world, relies on medication to control such teenagers is also a missed opportunity.
The intrusive, mostly close-up DV filming does give that documentary feel to some extent, otherwise it's a little excessively jittery and some may find it distracting from the story and characters, rather than adding an emotional subjectivity.
I would give this film a lower score but the performances by the majority of the cast are first class and there are some very emotional moments and scenarios. Gordon Levitt seems to be favouring these kind of messed up teenager roles and his performance is convincing. Zooey Descchanel yet again proves herself the best young actress around in a demanding role and as mentioned, Don Cheadle near steals the film and provides a much needed strong central foundation in an otherwise dramatically and thematically uncertain script.
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