Sep 26

“Indignation”: College Guy Meets Troubled Gal

James Schamus‘s new Indignation is a film adaptation of author Philip Roth’s 2008 novel. And David Edelstein‘s review title, “Indignation Is the Best Philip Roth Film Adaptation By a Mile,” is a sentiment echoed in various ways by other critics as well.

The plot summary on Rotten Tomatoes: “…Indignation takes place in 1951, as Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a brilliant working class Jewish boy from Newark, New Jersey, travels on scholarship to a small, conservative college in Ohio, thus exempting him from being drafted into the Korean War. But once there, Marcus’s growing infatuation with his beautiful classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), and his clashes with the college’s imposing Dean, Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), put his and his family’s best laid plans to the ultimate test.”

Some family background, per David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “Back in Newark, funerals for local boys are fueling the spiraling anxieties of Marcus’ father, Max (Danny Burstein). ‘The tiniest mistake can have consequences,’ he says, fearing that his straight-A student son will be led astray in pool halls and gambling dens. Max’s paranoia is scaring his levelheaded wife Esther (Linda Emond) and pushing Marcus away.”

Sexually inexperienced, Marcus is at first conflicted about his attraction to the more open and emotionally fragile Olivia. Stephen Holden, New York Times:

After a separation, they warily reconnect, and Olivia, who has scars on her wrist, confesses to Marcus that she had a breakdown and attempted suicide. In Ms. Gadon’s sensitive performance, you can feel the vulnerability just beneath the surface of her apparent poise. Marcus isn’t worldly enough to understand fully the implications of her instability. But when Esther visits and meets Olivia, she immediately notices and pleads with her son to discontinue the relationship.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Very much a character-driven film, ‘Indignation’ focuses on its young protagonists as they movingly attempt to determine who they are both as individuals and as a possible couple.”

The movie’s 15-minute “grueling centerpiece,” according to Edelstein (Vulture) (and others), is the one “in which Marcus is summoned to meet Dean Caudwell [Tracy Letts] and finds himself literally — and, folks, I’m not misusing that word — fighting to hold his insides together…Caudwell is the embodiment of right-wing, Christian authority and its penchant for hypocrisy (the charge against Marcus is a refusal to compromise), and Marcus’s attempts to assert religious and philosophical independence only tighten his own noose. Caudwell leaves Marcus in ruins while barely raising his voice.”

You can see the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “’Indignation’ might be dismissed as a small, exquisite period piece, but it is so precisely rendered that it gets deeply under your skin. There are a lot of words, and every one counts. You feel the social pressures bearing down on characters who, in accordance with the reticence of the times, tend to withhold their emotions and suffer in silence.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “…(T)he story and treatment keep inviting us to circle back to it and wonder what the characters might have done here or should have done there. Like the best wines and the best films, there’s a complexity to the finish, so that it reverberates with meanings beyond the obvious. ‘Indignation’ has the disconcerting quality of truth and is an altogether adult piece of work.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “The beauty of ‘Indignation’ can be found in how it builds, growing from a garden-variety coming-of-age story into a poetic, even prayerful, meditation on the pitiless vagaries of character and regret. Thoughtful and reserved, perhaps even to a fault, ‘Indignation’ winds up packing a wallop far greater than its modest parts might suggest.”

Jun 05

“Love and Mercy”: Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s Struggles

In essence, we get to study Brian’s break with sanity and his eventual healing, but by keeping the focus tight on these two moments, the film becomes emotionally exhilarating. This is a dark story at times, and there is an undercurrent of sadness that is hard to shake off, but it is also a story about just how incredibly important love can be to the overall well-being of any person. Drew McWeeny, HitFix, regarding film Love and Mercy

Love and Mercy, called by Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)”the best musical biopic in decades,” examines aspects of Beach Boy Brian Wilson‘s diagnosis with severe mental illness in the 1960’s. As IMDB adds, “In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.”

Structure of Love and Mercy

Andrew Barker, Variety:

Alternating back and forth in time, [director Bill] Pohlad and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner eschew a long-winded biographical approach in favor of two temporally specific parallel narratives. In one, roughly covering the period from 1965-68, [Paul] Dano plays Wilson as he resigns from touring, masterminds one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest masterpieces, and finds his grip on reality slowly loosening. In the second, set in the 1980s, [John] Cusack shows us Wilson as a broken, confused man under the pharmacological and legal thrall of manipulative therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), finding unlikely love with a Cadillac dealer named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who will later become his second wife.

You can watch the trailer here:

Some Psychological Background

Although Wilson was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by Landy, in later years he was diagnosed elsewhere with bipolar schizoaffective disorder.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “In reductive psychological terms, Wilson endured a terrible, abusive father (Bill Camp), who became the boys’ manager. Wilson then swapped him out for Landy, a manipulator of a different stripe. ‘Love & Mercy’ puts the two father figures out there because the facts of Wilson’s life support it. The man who wrote the melody for the neediest pop classic ever, ‘God Only Knows,’ clearly knew pain and emotional desolation and knew how to seduce millions with the sound.”

Dano’s Wilson

Henry Barnes, The Guardian: “The songs in his head are coalescing into ‘Pet Sounds’. The voices in his head are only starting to get in the way…Bored of writing about ‘sun and summer and summer and sun’, he stays in California, dabbling with LSD, coveting ‘ego-death’, preparing an album that will change pop music forever.”

Cusack’s Wilson

Andrew Barker, Variety: “…Cusack’s fortysomething Brian dodders around his beachfront mansion under the ever-watchful eye of Landy and his ‘bodyguards,’ who have ordered Wilson to cut all contact with his family and even micromanage his diet. Heavily medicated to treat what Landy had diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, Wilson’s speech has been rendered into a series of seeming non sequiturs, yet Melinda seems to immediately understand him, recognizing a gentle soul desperate for connection, who retains a certain childlike trust despite years of exploitation.”

Giamatti’s Therapist Landy

Eric Kohn, Indiewire: “A delusional character himself, the domineering Landy could provide the focus of an entire movie in his own right, but Pohlad smartly keeps the story focused on Wilson’s talent and the way it confuses those around him.”

Nov 27

“Running from Crazy”: Documentary About Hemingways

I wanted to share my story as a way for others to realize no matter what and where you come from everyone has a story and some relationship to mental instability. I am a Hemingway and have struggled with depression and craziness in my family but I believe that we all share similar stories. I want others to feel supported and the stigma of mental illness to be obliterated. Mariel Hemingway, about Running From Crazy

Actress/model Mariel Hemingway addresses the Hemingway legacy in the Barbara Kopple-directed film Running from Crazy. This is a legacy that includes depression and other mental problems, substance abuse, and at least seven suicides in her immediate family, including that of famous grandfather Ernest as well as sister Margaux, the model and actress.

Mariel, the youngest sibling in her family, is now 51. Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “The title, ‘Running From Crazy,’ refers to what she feels she has been doing all her life – running from the family weaknesses, trying to be healthy and trying to help people suffering from suicidal depression.”

Margaux, who killed herself at age 41, was the next oldest sibling; Mariel shared the same career interests as her. Joan, or “Muffet,” the eldest, rounds out the trio of sisters. She’s a painter who suffers from mental illness.

The trailer sets it up:

Sebastian Doggart, The Guardian, says the moviereveals a string of tragic secrets, including a claim by Mariel that their father, Jack (Ernest’s son, who died after heart surgery in 2000), sexually abused her sisters. Their mother’s unhappiness with her marriage to Jack, heavy drinking at daily ‘wine time’ and long battle with cancer are also cited as reasons for the children’s problems. Margaux’s own alcohol and drug addiction, acquired during her time partying in Studio 54, contributed to her depression, while Muffet’s use of LSD is blamed for her psychoses.”

The sister whose story gets the most air time is Margaux, according to several reviewers. Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “…(S)he was a ‘really wild child’ who lived very high for a while without regard to the future and then tragically found she had none. Mariel, by contrast, is careful, thoughtful and vividly aware of her place in the world.”

Daphne HowlandVillage Voice, expresses disappointment, though, in the lack of depth portrayed given that Kopple had access to 54 hours of relevant footage that had been shot by Margaux.

On the outcome for Mariel related to the various family dynamics, Ian Thomson, The Telegraph, states: “A survivor, Mariel was determined to escape the ‘curse of the Hemingways’ by trying out every far-out health fad from parapsychology to integral massage to the yogas of increased awareness. These were far from exercises in pure and applied pointlessness.”

Nicolas Rapold, New York Times: “…(T)his heart-wrenching and deceptively conventional documentary manages the tensions in its subject and in the vérité approach in a fruitful, illuminating and surprisingly moving way.”

Nov 25

“Sane New World”: Ruby Wax Says We Can Change Our Brains

Wax says that human beings are simply not equipped to deal with the crushing demands of 21st-century living, with its deluded update on Descartes: “I’m busy therefore I am.” Allison Pearson, The Telegraph, regarding Sane New World

Comedian Ruby Wax has been speaking out about her own mental health issues for years. (See my previous post about her.)

In her new book Sane New World Wax now shares what she’s learned about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, an area in which she’s gotten her Master’s degree. Her publisher: “…(S)he explains how our busy, chattering, self-critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and stress. If we are to break the cycle, we need to understand how our brains work, rewire our thinking and find calm in a frenetic world.”

Although she dedicates the book “to my mind, which at one point left town,” she directs it to both the “mad-mad” (those who identify with having mental illness) and the “normal-mad” (everyone else).

Wax opens the book with information about her episodes of depression. She believes, she tells Antonia Macaro and Julian Baggini, FT.com, that depression is biological, not “situation-appropriate.” Furthermore, whether about her own life or that of others, “’Failure or success has nothing to do with the disease, nothing,’ she insists. ‘Think of it as every other disease. Depression is like cancer, shingles or diabetes, there is no link.’”

It’s her explanation of the role of the brain in our emotional lives that’s been the better reviewed section of Sane New World. Bella BathurstThe Guardian, calls it “the clearest I’ve seen” on this topic.

When in the midst of one’s illness, medication is the way to go, says Wax. However, when not in the midst of it, the mindfulness techniques she advocates can be preventive and/or helpful.

By using mindfulness techniques, we can observe emotions, decide whether they’re rational, and make appropriate changes.

Nov 05

Allie Brosh: Fans Pleased “Hyperbole and a Half” Now a Book

Trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. Allie Brosh

My last post about 28-year-old comic blog writer Allie Brosh was about widely appreciated pieces on her blog Hyperbole and a Half about her depression. Now her first book has been published, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, and it contains some all-new stuff in addition to some old.

The following is Brosh’s own book description:

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative— like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it—but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly.

So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Pictures
Words
Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

One thing that’s been so important to many of her fans has been Brosh’s openness regarding her emotional struggles. Amy GoldschlagerKirkus Reviews, reports:

…(H)er vivid depiction of her struggle with depression is extraordinarily frank, describing a deadening descent into apathy, the frustration engendered by torrents of unhelpful advice and a bout of hysterical laughter inspired by discovering a piece of dried-up corn underneath her refrigerator. It was very important to Brosh to communicate what being clinically depressed really feels like. ‘I was really pushing myself,’ she says. ‘I had a two-part motivation: to shine a light on the serious thing that’s really scary and bring out the more absurd aspects of it.’ Her intention was to ‘walk the line between levity and respect for the subject,’ she says. ‘I wanted to make it easier to talk about.’

And she has for many.

According to Zosia BielskiThe Globe and Mail, Brosh’s own climb out of depression has been assisted by such things as her relationship with her two dogs, swimming, running, and Wellbutrin. However, she claims to be only at “about 40 percent capacity.”

(So you won’t be surprised if you read the article, a heads up that Bielski also interviewed me as part of her research.)

What about other content in the new book? States Zaineb Mohammed, Mother Jones: “…(I)t chronicles her problem-child days (she once ate an entire cake intended for her grandfather’s birthday party), adventures with her dogs (one of which she suspects is mentally impaired), and musings on her character flaws. Procrastination, for instance—she actually started the blog as a way to avoid studying for a college physics final.”

Wireds Laura Hudson has the following exchange with Brosh about the way she’s able to write about certain thoughts and feelings that speak to and for others:

WIRED: There’s another story in the book where you really delve into your own irrational thoughts, like feeling resentful when someone takes a chair you weren’t even using, or feeling oddly cheated when you find out the wind wasn’t blowing as hard as you thought it was. They really captured the sort of feelings that I think a lot of people have but never articulate.

Brosh: …It was probably my favorite one in the book and I was really worried it wasn’t going to be something that other people liked. So I’m really happy you mentioned that one. A lot of the stuff I write is a result of me observing myself. Catching myself doing these things that are inconsistent with the way that I think am, being sneaky or lying to myself. It’s funny to me, so it translates pretty naturally into a post. They say you write what you know, so that’s something I think a lot about. It’s fun being able to make fun of it. It helps me cope with the fact that I’m like that.

AN EXTRA

If you’ve ever ordered an item from someone’s web page, it’s fairly standard stuff—thus, it’s likely you’ve never been given the particular options Brosh provides on her delightful book page.