Girl, Interrupted is an adaptation of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir about her time spent in a mental institution, and it strays too close to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to avoid comparison – something that doesn’t benefit the film. It does enough differently to avoid being a rip-off of the classic film, but similarities such as having a protagonist who may not actually be crazy, who enters into an institution and befriends the other patients, and who then questions the system and its methods, is enough to inevitably bring comparison, and on no counts does this film live up to its spiritual predecessor.
Having said that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film, Winona Ryder gives a decent performance as our lead, although she has every scene stolen from her when Angelina Jolie walks on screen. This is the film which won Jolie her Oscar and therefore unsurprisingly she does a great job at excluding a dangerous, damaged, and sensual performance. Unfortunately, the good work done by these two actresses, as well as several members of the supporting cast, deserves a harder hitting and better developed script with which to work from. There is real potential here, but ultimately the film doesn’t pack the punch that it and its subject matter should have, and comes across as far too smooth and simplistic.
There are several strands which feel underdeveloped, several characters that could have been explored beyond a surface level, and several important questions which are touched upon but then abandoned. Whoopi Goldberg’s character for example has racist remarks made towards her and yet nothing is made of them. Similarly the film briefly critiques women’s position within the 60’s, before then that is also dropped and never picked up again. It’s not a bad film, it works on several levels and certainly delivers good performances, but it contains the seeds of a much better film that unfortunately never makes it onto the screen.
Overall Girl, Interrupted lacks the power needed to raise it above being anything more than entertaining, and that’s not just when compared to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but also more generally. I was more than happy to go along with it and watched with interest, but overall it fails to draw out any strong emotions the way that it should have done, and winds up being slightly underwhelming.