Tribeca 2014: ‘Gabriel’ captures the unpredictability of mental illness

Gabriel

Written and directed by Lou Howe

USA, 2014

The stereotype of mental illness on film is not too dissimilar from the stereotype of mental retardation put forward by the film Tropic Thunder: Successful characters have to be “disturbed,” but they can’t be completely out of control, or else audiences won’t relate to them. Thus, Lou Howe’s debut feature Gabriel, opening this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, draws notice simply because it challenges the rule. The titular character is ill to a degree that the audience cannot completely understand, and he gives an otherwise standard film the depth and edge that it needs.

This will not be clear at the start of the picture. We first meet Gabriel (Rory Culkin) on a lonely search for his long-lost girlfriend, wherein he inadvertently teaches a small child to smoke cigarettes and steals a pair of the girlfriend’s
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