Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Randle McMurphy would have taught these ladies what being crazy was all about.

Set during the sixties, Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder) is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and sent to a renowned New England psychiatric hospital where she spent the next two years in a ward for teenage girls. There, she finds out more about herself through others, especially Lisa (Angelina Jolie), a charming sociopath who really messes with Susanna’s, as well as everybody else’s, minds.

Any movie that has ever been and ever will be made about psychiatric hospitals, will always be compared to the greatest of all-time: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. To some movies, this may not seem like a very fair-comparison but still it can’t be escaped as that film is not only the finest about psychiatric hospitals, but one of the finest films of all time. Period. That’s why it’s so damn hard for films like these to get past that detour, and be it’s own film. Sadly, the idea and thought of One Flew only made this flick all the more boring in hind-sight.

I’ve never read Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical-take on her 18-month stay at the nut house, but from what I hear, people that loved that book absolutely loathed this movie and I can totally see why. From the first-shot, I expected this movie to be one of those downright depressing tales of a bunch of wacked-up people that can’t seem to get by in life no matter how hard they try to be normal, and that’s what sort of had me excited here. I thought I, dare I say it, was in-store for a female-version of One Flew, but somehow, just ended-up with a total chick-flick disguised as a One Flew-ripoff. Very, very disappointing.

Aw, look at Winona! Trying to smoke and lose her Hollywood sweetheart image.
Aw, look at Winona! Trying to smoke and lose her Hollywood sweetheart image.

After I got used to the tone and realized that maybe this movie was going to shine more light in the bottle then I expected, I decided to still give it a chance and see where my opinions and minds swayed. However, I soon find myself caring less and less about the material as it went along. Mainly most of the blame has to be put on director James Mangold who treats this material as if it was another soapy, melodramatic TV-movie-of-the-week that you’d probably catch right after school is letting-out and the kids are just getting on the buses.

With an R-rating, this film definitely has it’s fair shares of curses, nudity, drug-use, and some disturbing images to spice some things up, but you take away all of that, and then you just got a film that’s trying way, way too hard to inspire us to be the best in our lives and instead, ends up just being way too melodramatic and serious with itself. You don’t feel like you just watched something that will stay in your mind forever, nor have you change anything you already do throughout your day; it’s just there to be there. That’s just about it and that sucks because from what I hear, the source material is very, very rich in it’s context and what it has to say. Somehow, someway, Mangold lost his way.

Obviously a movie about a bunch of crazy girls (half of which have all tried to kill themselves) isn’t going to go down the dark comedy-route, but at least give me something that’s more than just a bunch of sad, lonely girls that can’t make sense of anything. Seriously, I’ve seen it all before, heard it all before, and 9 times out of 10, know that it’s an idea that’s been used a lot better before. Watching crazy girls cry, rant, rave, curse, yell, and be sad all the time, doesn’t give me much pleasure, nor does it really inspire me to move-on with my life and be the best that I can be. I don’t know what Kaysen’s original source-material’s point was about life and how you live it, but something tells me it got a bit skewered in the process of making this movie. Also, as inspiring as it may be to see a bunch of crazy girls change their lives around, wake up, and smell the cauliflower, it’s a theme/idea that isn’t anything new, refreshing, or powerful in the least-bit, especially when it’s done in such a dry way like this. It’s just boring to hear, boring to watch, and most of all, boring to wait for 2 hours, just so it will get to it’s damn point.

The only aspect of this movie that nearly saves the day is the performances from everybody involved, especially it’s two leads. Winona Ryder does a great-job at giving this Susanna girl some life, that may seem a bit phony at-first, but soon becomes more and more believable as the story rolls on and we see how she reacts to what life has thrown at her. Obviously Ryder isn’t the best actress out there, but the girl still can give a solid performance when she wants to and that’s exactly what she does here. However, I do think that this Susanna girl was a lot more complex and diverse in the book, which is why it’s sort of a shame to see how she rarely smiles, rarely makes people laugh, and rarely ever does anything we don’t expect from her. She’s sort of plain and dull, which is something that Ryder tries to distract us from, but in the end, sort of fails to do so. Yet, it isn’t her fault and it’s more of Mangold’s than anybody else’s, really.

So nutty, yet, still so hawt.
So nutty, yet, still so hawt.

The best out of this whole cast is obviously Angelina Jolie, who won an Oscar here for her role as the trouble-maker and fire-starter inmate known as Lisa. There’s always a certain spark and edge to Jolie that makes her light-up on-screen and here, she uses that to her advantage, but in a different way than we are used to seeing from her. Lisa is nasty, brutally honest, hurtful, but also very unapologetic in the way she handles herself, tells everybody how she feels, and goes about her day as if nobody else is around her. Lisa reminds me of a lot of girls I know (even guys, too) and definitely seems like a more complex person than Susanna is and that shows. Whenever she’s not around, the movie drags and drags and drags, until she finally shows-up once again to liven things up. If you feel as if Jolie isn’t a good actress and isn’t really worth-watching, other than wondering how she got her lips to be so freakin’ big in the first-place, then check out her role here and realize that the girl has a lot more going on for her than Ryder does, that’s for damn sure. Probably has a lot more money too, that she uses to buy her clothes with. Hayooo! Don’t worry, I’ll be here till Thursday!

Consensus: The cast makes up for some of the script’s misfortunes, but there’s way too many in Girl, Interrupted to turn your head-away from as it just ends up being another, melodramatic and soapy chick-flick about a bunch of gals that have problems, need to get over them, and simply can’t. Just watch for Jolie and some of Ryder, and be done with it.

3.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Trust me, not as titillating as you dudes may expect. Girls, too. If you like that sort of thing.
Trust me, not as titillating as you dudes may expect. Girls, too. If you like that sort of thing.


  1. ohhh nooo…you didn’t like it. 😦 It is far from perfect but for some reason love this movie(Have seen it quite a few times.) Plus it has Angelina! :)))

  2. Oh dear, sorry to hear you didn’t like it! I’ve not seen it but I’ve read the book so I suspect the film will leave me disappointed. Never mind – it’s often the way. Nice review!

  3. Shame you didn’t like it – I think its a fantastic film. The relationship between the women in the hospital is really heart-warming, and you really connect with the characters (who are all wonderfully developed throughout). They bond by having midnight adventures, such as bowling and looking at their psychiatric reports. You find out about most of the girls conditions (although some don’t go into detail), making the audience connect with them more.

  4. Nice review. I agree, I didn’t like this film and didn’t think Jolie deserved to win the Oscar over Catherine Keener for Being John Malkovich.

  5. Hi, Dan… I just wanted to say that I just spent the last hour or so reading your reviews, and I enjoyed them very much! I think you have a good eye for what works in a movie and what doesn’t, certainly one can tell that you are experienced and know what you are talking about; you are critical without being snobbish, and even in the case where you didn’t like a film based on personal opinion (like this one, ha!) you always make clear that you have good reasons to do so. And you have a good sense of humor, as well; keep up the great work! I’ll be coming back.

    Regarding the film, Girl Interrupted, I personally really liked it but I think it is largely due to Angelina’s extraordinary and wickedly charming performance. And I understand what you mean when you say that the film drags whenever she’s not on screen. Winona’s character got completely outshined by her.

  6. I’m disappointed you didn’t like it, because it remains one of my favorite Jolie performance to date (and I think she completely earned that Oscar with this role). I’ve actually read the book, and I found it far more dull than you considered the movie; the supporting characters had a lot less detail, and the character of Lisa wasn’t nearly as engaging or enthralling as she was scripted. This is one of the first few times I found a movie better than the book. It was a good character study, and while Ryder didn’t give a standout performance, her character was meant to be subtle. I initially wanted to compare it to Cuckoo’s Nest (and it pales in comparison), but the book shows that it’s more about a post-high school girl who loses her way …tremendously and the unconventional group of people she meets in the hospital.

  7. You sir are hilarious. Yeah, this movie was bad. Whoopi got one of the most thankless roles of her career (and there are plenty), Winona is grating and I felt second-hand embarrassment from watching her performance. It really is a mediocre chick flick guised as a drama piece. Angelina Jolie does a wonderful job here and she was the only one in the whole film who gave a great performance. Everybody else, even my beloved Elisabeth Moss, sucked. Yet, even Angelina’s fantastic performance cannot save this piece of shit.

    • It was just a failed-attempt at trying to be hard-hitting, but soapy at the same time. I wasn’t buying it as you could probably tell. Thanks!

  8. Been a long time since I’ve seen this film, but overall I recall enjoying it. I did read the book before I saw the movie and thought that it was pretty faithfully adapted. Overall I think the moral of the story is to make the most of life like you say, but as I recall it was really about more about overcoming mental illness. The fact that this young woman survived living in a mental institution for any amount of time and then was able to move on and have a functional life afterward is impressive. I would agree with one of the other people above who commented that a lot of the joy in the film comes from watching the bonding that takes place between the women in that tough situation together. I concur with you that the best part of the movie is the performances. Winona Ryder is okay, although Angelina Jolie truly steals the show. The strange thing about Girl Interrupted is that I felt a very similar theme going on with this past season of American Horror Story. In the show the asylum itself and plot lines may have been way more fucked up, however the period piece elements and the bond between patients is similar. Very much an us versus them mentality between the patients and the caretakers. Be thankful you haven’t been locked away in the nuthouse yourself! Maybe that’s the moral of the story?

  9. Not in the same league as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest but still a fine drama with some good central performances. And the soundtrack is superb!

  10. I watched this when it came out, and thought it was pretentious. Didn’t mind Jolie, though, and thought she was “one to watch”… Saw this a few years ago, and still think it’s pretentious (and I can’t stand Winona as an actress, generally) but Jolie really did deserve her Oscar for this. Really really.

  11. Good points about the film. I felt the movie was just okay. I never connected with any of the characters, so I never really cared what was going to happen to any of them.

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