Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: Manic (2003)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 2003's indie gem.

Directed by Jordan Melamed
Produced by Trudi Callon and Kirk Hassig
Written by Michael Bacall and Blayne Weaver
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Bacall, Cody Lightning, Elden Henson, Sara Rivas, and Don Cheadle

***1/2

Despite its 2001 Sundance premiere, this great little film did not premiere in the U.S. until almost 2 and half years later. This indie drama takes place in a mental institution's juvenile wing, which is joined by the hotheaded newcomer, Lyle Jensen (Gordon-Levitt). Some of the other teenagers there are Chad (Bacall), Kenny (Lightning), Sara (Rivas), Michael (Henson), and Tracy (Deschanel). All of these characters have their own problems, and they are under the watch and guidance of Dr. Monroe (Cheadle). Lyle and Michael both struggle with rage and get into fights. Kenny is Lyle's roommate and is dealing with sexual molestation issues. As Lyle tries to get Kenny to open up, he also bonds with Chad, a teen waiting on a large inheritance from his rich uncle. Meanwhile, Sara is getting better, and she tries to help Tracy, who is quiet and who has been verbally abused by her mother for years. Lyle even takes a liking to Tracy when they share similar problems in a group session. Though Lyle is fighting his own demons like the others, he tries put his life together before it's too late.

From what I've read, people either love or hate this movie. I'm in the former category. The film just works. Shot with jarring handheld cinematography, the film revels in its independent roots. Other than Don Cheadle, the cast is mostly full of unknowns (at the time of its release anyway). Both of these distinctions are what makes the film work. The camerawork puts the viewer right in with these characters, as the actors deliver confident, authentic performances. Gordon-Levitt, Cheadle, and Rivas are particularly noteworthy. Gordon-Levitt does an excellent job of internalizing Lyle's anger and somehow externalizing it without overplaying his scenes. Cheadle is both calm and collected as Dr. Monroe, but he explodes in a truly powerful moment that should've been his "Oscar scene". Though Rivas hasn't done much since, she is a natural as Sara, a damaged girl who paints and who is attempting to overcome her problems.  The rest of the cast also performs well. If you want a solid film with great performances, or if you just want to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in a film together made before (500) Days of Summer, see this movie.

Oscar Tally: None

16 comments:

  1. I loved this too. It really worked. When (500) Days of Summer came out, I hoped more people would try to seek this out since JGL ad Deschanel were in it together.

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    1. I'd seen a few scenes from it on IFC a couple of times, but I hadn't seen the whole film. Glad I finally did.

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  2. I have neveer ever heard of this one, wow Levitt and Deschanel worked together before 500Days? That's really enough for me to add this to my watchlist, they have interesting chemistry though I wouldn't call it romantic one as Zooey doesn't have it with anybody. great review!

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    1. Thanks! Their chemistry seems more like an onscreen friendship based on their real one, which is great. You should definitely give this a look.

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  3. You had me at Blayne Weaver. I actually enjoyed his directorial debut, the short film Losing Lois Lane as part of my Weather Girl review: http://blahblahblahgay.blogspot.com.au/2010/10/weather-girl-2009.html
    if you're interested.

    He's got some talent when it comes to writing and I think I'll be checking this film out.

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    1. I'll check Losing Lois Lane out, and let you know what I think.

      Great! Hope you like it.

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  4. I'm glad you reviewed this film, and I love what you said about Gordon-Levitt internalizing Lyle's anger without overplaying it. That's a good way to put it.

    I saw this movie quite a while ago, and, oddly, I'd almost forgotten it, but I loved it. It felt so real, and I loved the fact that the writers didn't feel the need to force a big epiphany that the characters weren't ready for. It just allowed each character to be where he was at that moment, if you know what I mean. And as you said, the acting was terrific and the hand-held cam worked really well.

    This film kind of typified everything I love about indie movies.

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    1. I know what you mean. Indie films can sometimes strive for a certain "indieness", but this film just tells the story without any artifice. Love it.

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    2. That's a great way of putting it.

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  5. Excellent review here. I love everything about Manic. Definitely my favorite JGL performance, and some of the best work Cheadle has ever done.

    I have a funny, name-dropping story about this flick. When I went to Sundance a few years ago, I literally bumped into Joseph Gordon-Levitt at a midnight screening for a bunch of short films. We talked for a little bit and I told him how much I loved this movie. And he goes, "So you were the one..." and I said, "The one...?" "Yeah, the one person who saw it."

    Point is, I definitely think more people need to see this flick. Very small, but very powerful.

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    1. Thanks man. Again, that story is awesome.

      I agree on this film. It's one of those great ones that most people haven't heard of.

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    2. That is a hilarious story. Kind of like the Robin Williams character in Good Will Hunting. Makes me like JGL -- humility and a sense of humor are qualities I can't resist in people.

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    3. Me too, and that's a great comparison to Sean Maguire.

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  6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in my top 10 actors. I goda check that movie out!! ahhh@@#

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    1. It's great. You should definitely see it.

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