"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Movies About Teenagers Coping With Life

Kindness slays me.  I can sit stone-faced while people are slaughtered and abused and love dies and all hope is lost, but one act of kindness and I'm a puddle on the floor.

I watched two movies that deal with a similar theme of coping - specifically, New York teens dealing with angst.  One was nasty, the other nice.

First I watched Margaret.  It got mixed reviews, but if people like it, they generally think it's a masterpiece - an operatic film with huge messages for the world.  I found it intriguing, but annoying.

It's got an amazing cast: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, and Mark Ruffalo in the first unlikable character I've seen him play.  Paquin plays Lisa, a 17-year-old who distracted a bus driver who ran a red light and killed a pedestrian which prompted a lawsuit.  Lisa held the dying woman's hand and talked to her as she bled out.  The rest of the movie is about her trying to cope with this ordeal, the guilt she feels for the part she played in the accident, all by herself.  She keeps insisting her mom's not there for her, even though mom keeps asking to help.  Lisa's stubborn and arrogant and wavers between loving the drama and being completely traumatized by it.  The portrayal of a teen in crisis is very realistic.  She's just on the brink of getting that the whole world isn't about her, so she's scrambling relentlessly to draw attention to herself at every turn.

But there's a larger message that some reviewers get very excited about.  In one of her classes - some kind of amazing debating class with two teachers - arguments centre around 9/11, the Israeli invasion of Palestine, the Iraq and Afghanistan invasion, and whether or not the America government is a terrorist organization.  The journey Lisa takes through all her crap is apparently mirroring the journey America is taking to get over itself.  As if.

The problem I had with the film, is that Lisa is too unlikable for me to care about her.  She's realistic, but I'd like to avoid her for now until she grows up a bit.  There's just a brief moment at the end where we get the idea that she's figuring it out, but it's too little to make up for having to watch her drama unfold for hours.
This is a C+ for me.

The nice movie about coping is It's Kind of a Funny Story.  It's a feel-good movie about mental illness.  It follows Craig, a 16-year-old who came close to jumping off a bridge, but walked into the local hospital instead.  He didn't have a major traumatic event like Lisa, just the daily grind of more pressures than he could handle.

There are a few issues with the reality of the set-up:  The psychiatric wing of the hospital has a rule that if you ask to be admitted voluntarily, you have to stay for five days no matter what, but legally they can only detain a voluntary patient for up to 24 hours - but then there'd be no movie.  The patients regularly escape the wing for fun and games elsewhere in the building - there seems to be no security personnel at all. Visitors drop in whenever they feel like it - night or day.  Patients can call anyone they want at any time.   They take away patients' belts and shoelaces, but not the drawstrings in their sweatshirts....  But this isn't a documentary (although some people will come away thinking this is what it's really like).  And it's no Girl, Interrupted.  It's much much lighter, yet no less watchable.  

The film reminded me of a book, The Bear's Embrace, about a woman with PTSD who spent some time in a psychiatric hospital.  She said that what really helped her was the other patients' total belief in her experiences and acceptance of her rather than rote sessions with the doctors.  This film shows a similar camaraderie and acceptance of one another juxtaposed with visitors calling the patients weird or yelling at them for not being able to get their shit together.  It's a wonder more of us aren't having issues with life.

Over his five days, Craig grows up and recognizes that he should be grateful for all he has.  The main reason this movie is preferable to Margaret is that we get to actually see Craig's character development instead of just hoping it gets better after the film ends.  He becomes more other-centered and starts noticing the beauty in the world.   We're rewarded for watching him slog through depression a bit (a really little bit).

I like the film because it reminds us that lots of people are walking around depressed, and that it can really help to try to find ways to help others and/or to try to find some beauty in the world - anything to get outside yourself.  Friends can be great too, but that can be hit and miss.

I'll give it a solid B.  

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