“Manic” definitely won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure. There have been a lot of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” rip-offs for literally decades and this grim version is basically no exception, except it’s not as dynamic in its delivery. It’s more low-key, and conventional in its filming method, but still ends up becoming a damn good movie, and with a cast like Zoey Deschanel and Don Cheadle, it has to be real hard to botch this. Thankfully, director Jordan Melamed doesn’t really screw it up despite its flaws.
Joseph Gordon Levitt pulls in a strong performance as Lyle, a kid who one day appears in a mental institution for teens to seek counseling after a violent incident, and, against his will, is forced to stay there. We’re not really sure how long he, or anyone in the institute are staying there, but they’re all really just symbolic for lost youth, lost youth affected by violence and psychological problems. This movie really hit close to home because of its often startling realism within the story of these young people whom are very lost in their life not sure where they fit, but are destined to keep ending up back in to the institution. Each of the film’s characters present different aspects of personalities but deep down they’re all just basically the same. The realistic depiction of asylum life hits very close to home and is so realistic it’s disturbing , often and it seems the director really knew what he was doing by also managing to cast real people who were in institutions as extras. Much of the film relies basically on mannerisms of its characters rather than excessive dialogue that really isn’t needed.
We manage to get a glimpse in to the minds of these characters and their personality only in their group sessions in which they argue, fight, and in rare times, get along. Director Melamed provides some of the most staggering direction I’ve seen in years. Though the movie does attempt to look and present itself as a docudrama, I never took to the digital direction. It just doesn’t add any sense of realism, and it’s just irritating half the time I was watching. What’s really the point of this movie after all? Is it a portrait of young lost people with no hope? Is it intended as a grim message about psychological disorders, or just an attempt at looking like a documentary with its attempted realism? None of it really marked a point in its story, so I wasn’t sure what they were trying to say to its audience.
The movie’s most powerful assets though aside from the writing and realism are the performances that was really well done here. The movie is a veritable showcase of very good underrated young actors; Joseph Gordon Levitt who I would never consider a great actor gives a great performance here as Lyle and is powerful, Elden Henson who is great in every film he’s in gives a great performance as Michael, the oft antagonist of Lyle who displays very violent behavior. Henson is very menacing in this film and was engrossing. Zoey Deschanel is great as the timid and emotionally unstable Tracy who clings on to her friend Sara in the institution and is very heartbreaking in her character’s persona. But the best performance give here is by the always excellent Don Cheadle who gives an amazing performance as the head counselor Dr. Monroe who is often times an avid confidant to the patients in the institute and helps them to speak their minds.
His presence alone saves this movie, and, as always, he gives a fucking amazing performance. The best example of the level of his performance here is his explosion after a fight during a session after one of the patients is attacked by his father. Cheadle commits to that one outbreak of anger and emotion with such conviction and genuine emotions, it’s a testament to the level of skill that man possesses and dwarfs everyone else’s performances in one fell swoop. Cheadle is excellent and gives this the true credibility it deserves. Otherwise, this grim portrait of lost souls is very well written with some realistic dialogue, great character chemistry and true moments of genuine humanity. The direction is irritating, and the story ultimately pointless, but watch this movie mostly for its benefits instead of its flaws. Basically the movie excels with excellent acting, a grim story, very good characterization and a scene stealing performance by Cheadle.