It's so nice to see popular culture finally coming out of the dark ages in addressing mental health issues. This movie did an excellent job of conveying the conflicts that exist among the mentally ill and their families, without beating the viewer over the head with a sentimental sledgehammer, or falling into the all-too-familiar trap of turning mental illness into great melodrama. (Which serves only to further stigmatize those who are most harmed by stigma.) This was about realistic characters coping with realistic emotions and issues, and did it in a way that gently informed and educated the viewer. This was a thinking person's film, not a "woman in danger" TV chick flick.
Kathy Bates' performance as a woman coping with a severe form of bipolar disorder was a wonder. We saw a woman, not a disorder, and she made her character come alive. She helped us see that those with mental illness have hopes and dreams too, and long to fulfill a purpose in their lives. Elizabeth Perkins was also fine as the conflicted "healthy" sister, struggling to find a balance between living an active and successful "normal" life, while also respecting the needs of her struggling sister. We see her sister's illness through her eyes, and she shows us the pain and hardship this illness causes families while also creating opportunities for a type of grace to break through. A balance is achieved in the end, gently and subtly, like these characters will continue working on perfecting the balancing process long after our window into their lives has closed. No TV-movie loose ends are tied up here, but the ending is moving, textured, and appropriate, nonetheless.
My only gripe is that parts of the chronology are choppy and leave you feeling as though you missed something. A critical relationship, for example, simmers through most of the movie, and then suddenly changes radically near the end, without much plot or character development. However, considering all that is done so well here, it's a small complaint.
Hats off to the writers, the director, and actors for a job well done.
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