Film No 24 (2015) : Girl, Interrupted

Girl,_Interrupted_PosterAnother 127 minutes of my life that I won’t get back.

Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie star in this 1999 film about a young woman who is admitted to a mental hospital after she has taken a bottle of aspirin washed down with vodka. Susanna (Ryder) claims that she was only trying to get rid of a headache, but her actions are interpreted as attempted suicide. Once inside Claymoore, Susanna begins to form relationships with other patients, many of whom seem to have far more serious mental health issues than her. Amongst these is Lisa (Jolie) who is rebellious and spirited, inspiring devotion from many of the women, including Susanna.

Jolie won a Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie, but I felt as if she was over-acting. I found it hard to empathise with either her character or Susanna’s, who seemed like a self-obsessed, indulged young woman rather than someone with serious mental health issues. ‘Girl, Interrupted‘ is the film adaptation of an autobiography; I suspect that in the written word, themes such as sanity and madness, institutionalisation, the treatment of depression etc. were explored more fully: in a film, it is very difficult to successfully convey what is going on inside someone’s head. A mental hospital is never going to be a cheery setting and my over-riding feeling throughout the film was one of unending dreariness.

According to internet reviews, the film received a mixed reception. I know what that means. It means quite a lot of people thought it was rubbish. Instead of the few weeks stay intended for Susanna, she ends up staying at the hospital for almost two years. I think the movie was filmed in real time, as I felt every minute of that two years. Seriously, just don’t bother.

Film No 28 (2014) : Little Voice

LVOne thing about Netflix is that it does throw up some classics, despite its somewhat limited selection of films. I had never actually seen ‘Little Voice’, although its reputation was such that I somehow knew it! The film was directed by Sam Mendes and is an adaptation of the play ‘The Rise & Fall of Little Voice’, written in 1992 by Jim Cartwright. Diana Vickers took the lead role in a West End production in 2009/10.

LV, played by Jane Horrocks, is a painfully shy…teenager? (I am not sure, because it was really difficult to pin an age on her character.) Overpowered and belittled by her mother, LV spends most of her time in her room, playing records which belonged to her late father’s collection. But this is not pop music; LV loses herself in the greats – Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf. When LV’s mother, falls for washed-up talent agent, Ray Say (Michael Caine) and invites him to the house, Say overhears LV singing and spots an opportunity to make himself some money. He invests in a stage set, the punters arrive and wait. Literally petrified at first, LV is unable to move, let alone sing. When she finally finds her voice, it turns out to be anything but little. There is a spark within LV, which is ignited when she gets the opportunity to perform on stage. Her performance turns out to be a catalyst as she finds her voice both literally and metaphorically – with some faith in herself restored, LV finds courage to retaliate, sticking up for herself against her bullying mother. Continue reading

Film No 9 (2014) : La Vie en Rose

La Vie en RoseA stunning biopic of the life of Edith Piaf, powerful French chanteuse who was at the height of her fame in the 1960s. Marion Cotillard won no less than seven ‘Best Actress’ awards (including an Oscar) for this performance and it’s easy to see why. The film is full of power and pathos, Cotillard’s portrayal of the troubled and mercurial Piaf is utterly mesmerising. The film is in French with sub-titles but, for me, the performance in Piaf’s native tongue added to the drama of the movie.

The film traces Piaf’s life from her early days as a the young Edith Gassion in Paris. When Edith is abandoned by her mother, she is taken in by her paternal grandmother who earns her living as the Madame of a brothel. The young Edith is cared for by the prostitutes before being taken away by her father on his return from World War 1. Louis Gassion is a contortionist, but it is his daughter’s idiosyncratic and powerful singing voice which draws in the spectators. A chance meeting with nightclub owner Louis Leplée in 1935 sees Edith proverbially plucked from obscurity – her rise to fame had begun. It was Leplee who gave Edith the stage name La Môme Piaf (‘The Little Sparrow’), later to become simply Edith Piaf.

By all accounts, Piaf was not a conventionally beautiful woman, neither was she easy to work with. It was all about the voice; haunting, melancholic and edith piafpowerful. A combination of drug addiction, illness and personal tragedy took their toll on Edith. She died of liver cancer in France aged just 47.

 I don’t want to give away too much more of the singer’s life story here, as the film depicts it passionately. As to whether the film is accurate in terms of events, I have no idea. But I thoroughly enjoyed the movie – and Marion Cotillard is rather better at impersonating Edith Piaf than I seem to remember Esther Rantzen being!