The Film: Manic (2001)
The Principles: Jordan Melamed (Director), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Cheadle, Zooey Deschanel
The Premise: Exploring the mental wing of a mental institution and presenting a wealth a strong performances that never got the credit they were due.
Is It Good: Without a doubt, this is the performance I tell people to watch if they want to see range by JGL. With Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper and Lincoln all being released with the latter half of 2012, the former childhood sitcom star is making his way into the mainstream as a star to watch. Those on this site know him from other greats, such as Mysterious Skin, Hesher and the well loved ( and for a reason) Brick.
I stumbled across this movie upon completing film school and looking to open a small video production company. I was looking for the best value prosumer video camera I could get and was comparing between a Sony and a Cannon, and stumbled across this gem that was filmed with the Sony. The first impression is that the video to film transfer was rough and the motion was jumpy, based on the lightness of the camera and the director’s choice to shoot with a versatile hand held technique. As the characters evolve the focus drops from the shaky cam and the grain adds to the overall texture of the film. It is grainy. It is rough. It looks as if they were actually recording for medical studies and archival. And it works.
Don Cheadle was everywhere at the time this was made, and took one for the team to be in this after coming off Out of Sight, Devil in a Blue Dress and Boogie Nights. Everyone knew he could act, but he was doing this well below his normal pay rate. He took on a character that is not only battling his desire to help the kids in a system he is not sure he believes in by doing it his way, but he is also attempting to quit smoking.
This was the first feature I had seen JGL in after 10 Things I hate about you , and I had just considered him nothing important. Surely this kid was going to be bested off the screen by the veteran. Not only was he to act across from Cheadle, but his character was the focus of the film, not the veteran actor.
If you watch this and come out thinking about a performance that was stronger than JGL, you have seen a different movie. He is 100 percent mesmerizing in here. His character Lyle has so many emotions that he is trying to manage while trying to be the person he wants to be. Often staring into space and trying to swallow rage and respond in the proper way. Mix in the hormones that are fueled by his costar, Zooey Deschanel in an almost makeup-less role and you are just waiting to witness the explosion that is sure to come from this lit fuse. Cheadle’s Dr. David Monroe often tells him he is too intelligent to be there, and looks to him to think his way through his issues.
I have found that many people on our boards have familiarity with mental diseases. The topics aren’t something people often want to talk about, and it is so hard to do so without making a big spectacle and actually removing the problems that are silently faced each and every day by so many of our society. Manic never strays too far from that. Letting the charisma of JGL and Cheadle captivate the audience while telling a slow churning drama that does have a few climaxes at the end, but the heart of the story lies in the group sessions.
This is not the new Matthew Perry vehicle, so when it touches on group therapy it does so in a very realistic light. Cheadle’s character appears to be in complete control while in the midst of group and has a great rapport with the juveniles that are there. Mediating careful and light most the time but throws the occasional direct and complex question that makes the patient confront some of the things that have landed them in there.
The conversations that go on in group range from Batman vs. Wolverine to which kid has had sex. Each child actor is convincing in their part though we only focus on a handful. Every time the teens go outside for recreational time, they are joined by some of the adults, including an older gentleman looking very similar to Alec Baldwin and cawing like a crow. There is a conversation between JGL and Deschanel in which they call them crazy and then state that is what people would say of them.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely. If the camera work at the beginning appears to be something not your style, give it time. Soon you will be entranced into the characters and not worried about the editing and cinematography. You may even decide that the lack of visual flare enhances the viewing experience.
The director also plays with colors into the mood of JGL’s character. He starts off as his own enemy in black. As he starts to realize where his problems lie and understand that identification will not solve his issues, but only help him to control them better, his shirt changes to white. At the end as his character puts a shell back on for the outside world he once again reverts back to his original black colored shirt. It’s a minor detail that stuck out to me only upon the second viewing but I felt was a nice touch to the attention to details that went into his emotional state.
One of the biggest things that I did like was the raw portrayal of these teens. They are not bad or crazy, they just have issues, and don’t we all. I spent quite a bit of time around this environment, with family and an ex-fiance who work in the mental health field. I’ve had to witness the effect it can have on those who work with them, and there were times that I knew much more than I probably legally should have. I had issues when I was young and can relate to the position JGL had been placed in. You will be hard pressed to find many movies that delve into such a topic without trying to make something right or wrong. I recommend taking a look at Manic for either the realistic story or the gripping performances by all involved. Or do it for both, you will enjoy it.
Most of the extras were teens who had received treatment for clinical depression.
Michael Bacall, who co-wrote the movie also played one of the lead characters named Chad. He also is credited on the screenplays for Scott Pilgrim Vs the World and 21 Jump Street.
Cinematic Soulmates: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl Interrupted, Mysterious Skin, Thirteen, Requiem for a Dream