Girl, Interrupted

Directed by James Mangold
Starring: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Elizabeth Moss.
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality and suicide.

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 10, 2000

After I saw The Hurricane, I thought I would never be able to get the identically-titled Bob Dylan song out of my head. That would only last for a day, because then I would see Girl, Interrupted, and now I can't shake Petula Clark's "Downtown" from my mind. It's been over a day now, and I'm still humming "things will be great when you're DOWN-TOWN!" This is a good film, but be warned: the same thing will happen to you.

In the late 1960's, Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder) was a high school graduate with no plan for the future. In order to prevent the unsuspected, she tries to kill herself. Her psychiatrist has her enter herself at Claymoore, a private mental institution. She is relatively normal there, where some young women are even more severely depressed or barely even functional. On the day she arrives, Lisa (Angelina Jolie) returns after a two-week unauthorized absence.

Lisa has been at Claymoore for years, occasionally escaping, getting in trouble, and then brought back by the cops. Susanna sees a notion of freedom in Lisa that she hopes to have herself. Meanwhile the staff of Claymoore, especially Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg), the head nurse, try to keep Susanna on the path of recovery.

You can never make a better mental ward film than Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted proves that. He does make a good film out of Kaysen's memoir, but it's just not as compelling when nearly all the patients are hot chicks. There are some good dramatic moments, but the strength of the film is in its intelligent sense of humor. In fact, it's practically a comedy that seems to be laughing at the expense of the mentally ill.

Of course, this would not be the first film to do that, but the characters are genuinely sympathetic. The cast of talented young women, including Clea DuVall and Brittany Murphy, make these characters come to life, and they express their problems without parody. And did I mention that they were all very attractive? Luckily, that is compensated by characters like Polly (Elzabeth Moss): a pyromaniac with burn scars all over her body. Following these characters is very interesting, but hanging around them for over two hours was too long.

Two months ago, when I reviewed The Bone Collector, I said that the trailers for The Hurricane and Girl, Interrupted showed before, and they "should no doubt be much better." This just again proves that I'm always right (at least in my own mind), and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association agrees, nominating Denzel Washington and Jolie for Golden Globes for their latter performances. Well, now I have to go back to singing: "...DOWN-TOWN! Everything's waiting for you!"

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Girl, Interrupted (1999) -- VHS
Girl, Interrupted (1999) -- DVD
Girl, Interrupted, a memoir by Susanna Kaysen -- Paperback
Girl, Interrupted, a memoir by Susanna Kaysen -- Audio Cassette (read by the author)
Girl, Interrupted: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan