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    Ward is hell

    The strongly acted reality-like drama "Manic" shows scenes of life in a psychiatric unit, and it's up to you to draw conclusions about the usefulness or pointlessness of the high-tension life of the ward.


    If you're not more than a couple years beyond high school graduation, I suspect you may picture yourself in the middle of the "Manic" psychiatric ward; for the rest of us, it's a sobering look from the outside into the intersecting worlds of troubled teenagers and the mental-health system.

    Directed by: Jordan Melamed.
    Written by: Michael Bacall, Blayne Weaver.
    Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Bacall, Zooey Deschanel,, Cody Lightning, Elden Henson, Sara Rivas, Don Cheadle,, Adrienne Rollo, Maggie Baird, Blayne Weaver, Lydell M., Cheshier, Roxie Fuller, Bree Nogueira, Kathy Paradise,, Lauren Shubert, William Richert, Ben Markham, Travis, Sutton, Nic Henley.

    Related links: Official site
    In the harsh, hyperrealistic style of many recent French movies and with more than an occasional echo of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Manic" watches over the shoulder of punkish high school hothead Lyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of "Third Rock from the Sun") after a severely violent incident during a baseball game. After an uncooperative interview with psychiatrist David (Don Cheadle), Lyle finds himself in the grip of two burly orderlies who drag him up to the mental ward while he screams, "Mom, tell them I'm not crazy!" Mom, already in tears, is not seen again.

    A few of the ward residents are irretrievably bonkers, but most are just kids with issues. Lyle's instant enemy Mike (Elden Henson of "The Mighty") is a pasty-faced bully who's belligerent toward most everybody and likes to affect black lingo and attitude — a pose that's not easy to maintain in front of the black doctor played by Cheadle. Sara (Sara Rivas) is very appealing as the obligatory maladjusted but artistic goth. And Kenny (Cody Lightning of "Skins") is a mostly silent Indian kid who becomes Lyle's roommate and asks him naive questions that mask his precocious sexual experience.

    Closest to our hero are Chad (Michael Bacall, who co-wrote the film), a rich kid whose insecurity leads him to idolize the rough-and-tumble Lyle; and the pretty but withdrawn Lauren (Zooey Deschanel of the outstanding "All the Real Girls"), who trades glances and then kisses with the newcomer.

    Because of its fly-on-the-wall style, the film feels like it doesn't have a dramatic direction but it does. The pressures of being cooped up together work on each character, and when they're not in a supervised group-therapy session, they have most of their day free to gossip, plot and fight. Imagine a high school with the classrooms removed and the most antisocial classmates given a light tether, and you've got the basic environment.

    And yet, the residents have their own way of doing things and sometimes it works — one of the best scenes comes when Lyle puts on hardcore music in the common room and gradually all of the kids join into a furniture-overturning mosh. Aggression bursts out into the open, yet nobody's hurt and no lasting damage is done. What would freak out the adults, if they were there to see it, actually works for the teenagers — and for the film.

    The film is at least 50 percent about what happens outside of adult supervision, but Don Cheadle is outstanding the rest of the time as the staff psychiatrist who walks the fine line between trying to relate to the teenagers on their own level and yet maintaining his sense of authority. It's a different kind of role for him, more the in-control, thoughtful professional than the slick undercover cop of "Traffic."

    The rest of the cast is quite good too — a whole collection of young but deceptively experienced actors who could well be on those annual magazine covers listing the "10 Young Actors to Watch." Punks, bullies and introverts, they're largely convincing in this ensemble work, led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

    The strongest impression I've had in a small number of observations of psychiatric wards like this one is that, despite token attempts at group therapy and mind-occupying activities, very little is actually done to help people. They're holding pens that people bounce in and out of. They dispense medication and try to keep people from making trouble.

    The ward in "Manic" is a little like that, if you care to see the signs of it. The group therapy sessions are led capably, sometimes masterfully, by Cheadle's character, but it's hard to imagine that getting everyone together once a day, going around a circle and getting everyone's short response to a question, is going to get to the heart of anybody's deep-seated issues. In fact, in the movie it frequently leads to open conflict, hostility and withdrawal, which can't be good for anybody. And the unstructured time is not helping a lot either. Left to themselves, the kids mostly just thinking about getting the fuck out of there, and who can blame them.

    APRIL 29, 2003

    Reader comments on Manic:

  • Gordon-Levitt BREAKS THROUGH!   from ronni, Jan 25, 2004
  • manic   from karen, Feb 21, 2004
  • [no subject]   from stephanie, Aug 25, 2004
  • Manic(Cody Lightning   from Destiny Greene, Dec 28, 2004
  • Re: Manic(Cody Lightning   from Autumn, Jan 23, 2006
  • Manic Movie Fan   from ManicMovieFan, Mar 13, 2005
  • the trip out song   from robyn, Mar 30, 2005
  • Re: the trip out song   from whodoesthat715, Oct 26, 2005
  • read   from amanda, Jun 5, 2005
  • LOVE IT   from sweetart, Jun 5, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Olivia, Jun 9, 2005
  • joey..   from niki, Jul 4, 2005
  • [no subject]   from , Jul 6, 2005
  • i really like this movie   from Bryttnee, Jul 7, 2005
  • love it,love it   from Karli, Jul 19, 2005
  • Great Movie   from Iqbal, Aug 14, 2005
  • Re: Great Movie   from Nick, Jun 4, 2008
  • the movie Manic...   from Chypi, Sep 13, 2005
  • the main guy..   from Anna, Nov 6, 2005
  • Chad bi-polor   from Claire, Nov 10, 2005
  • comment on manic   from maree, Nov 30, 2005
  • [no subject]   from sandy, Dec 24, 2005
  • Surprisingly good   from Jason K., Jan 10, 2006
  • i love it!   from Valerie, Jan 18, 2006
  • BEST MOVIE EVER   from Dennis, Mar 31, 2006
  • great movie   from nic, May 25, 2007
  • Deschanel as Lauren?   from Britt, Sep 27, 2007
  • Been there ...   from Miyagi, Dec 7, 2007
  • this affected me alot   from Nick, Jun 4, 2008
  • interpretation   from blahblah, Sep 6, 2011

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