Call me crazy, but I would have liked the new star-studded Lifetime movie Call Me Crazy: A Five Film more if it had been A One Film. Tackling the complex topic of mental illness in a single feature film is hard enough; tackling it in five short vignettes is an especially tall order, no matter how many Oscar-winners you have in your cast.
The film is a follow-up to 2011’s Five, a similar movie examining the effects of breast cancer. Call Me Crazy was produced by Jennifer Aniston and examines mental illness. Various kinds of mental illness. That was part of the problem. Each short film started to feel like a guessing game of Name That Disorder. I felt like I was back in high school Psychology trying to recognize symptoms. This is the bipolar story! Here comes the PTSD story! The film became too cut-and-dried and lost emotional power as a result.
I think the best way to review the movie is by going through each of the five segments one by one.
“Lucy” (Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard)
Brittany Snow stars in this first story as Lucy, a law student admitted to a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia. Octavia Spencer plays her therapist, whose main purpose seems to be to ask Lucy questions that lead to meaningful monologues. Jason Ritter is the young man Lucy connects with at the hospital. This segment feels like a restaging of various previous movies about mental illness, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Girl, Interrupted, in which the protagonist, though troubled, seems to be the sanest person there, while around them everyone is talking to themselves and rocking back and forth. There was nothing revolutionary to it, and although Lucy showed up again in two other segments, I still felt like I didn’t know her character well enough to properly understand or sympathize with her.
“Grace” (Directed by Laura Dern)
This segment, to me, was the best-written, the best-directed, and the best-acted of the night. It was also the only one that brought me to tears. Sarah Hyland proves she’s more than the ditzy daughter on Modern Family as Grace, a young woman whose mother Robin (Melissa Leo) suffers from bipolar disorder. To me, this story did the best job of insightfully conveying the effects of mental illness while inspiring an emotional response. Sarah Hyland plays a mixture of embarrassed, frustrated and heartbroken as she watches her mother cause scenes at the mall and drag race in front of her friends. Melissa Leo shows off her Oscar-winning acting talents as the troubled mother. I could have done without the cliché college-essay voiceover, but I think, had this been a full-length film, Hyland and Leo could have received Emmy nominations. And not only that, but it’s the only segment that really holds its own as a short film.
“Allison” (Directed by Sharon Maguire)
This segment focuses on Allison, the younger sister of Lucy, from the first vignette. Allison (Sofia Vassilieva) comes home from college to introduce her parents to her new boyfriend Luke (Ken Baumann), and she’s furious to discover her sister is also on her way. This story attempts to examine the effects of one person’s illness on an entire family, but it just didn’t speak to me in the same way “Grace” did, likely because it involved a lot of reflection about things that happened in the past. There were also a few cheesy lines that took me out of the story, such as when Allison tells Lucy, “I’m not afraid of you; I’m afraid of becoming you.” This segment fell the most flat for me.
“Eddie” (Directed by Bonnie Hunt)
Here Mitch Rouse is Eddie, a stand-up comedian suffering from depression. There’s been a lot of discussion relating comedy to depression, and a lot of comedians have been diagnosed with depression or similar mental illnesses. So this one felt like a “here we go again” sort of story. Lea Thompson plays Eddie’s concerned wife, and Chelsea Handler appears briefly as a friend at the comedy venue. This segment was pretty straightforward and didn’t give a whole lot of insight into the characters. It was also probably the most maudlin of the storylines. I think the film could have done a lot more to examine the connection between comedy and depression, since they decided to make the character a comedian in the first place.
“Maggie” (Directed by Ashley Judd)
Maggie (Jennifer Hudson) is a soldier who returns home with post-traumatic stress disorder after being repeatedly raped by her commanding officer. When she tries to attack her father while suffering the symptoms of PTSD, she nearly loses custody of her son. Brittany Snow’s character steps in as her lawyer because she understands firsthand what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. The subject matter of this segment felt the most like a Lifetime movie, but once again it was just too rushed to properly examine the complexity of the characters’ situation. It’s too heavy an issue to be dealt with in 20 minutes.
So was Call Me Crazy a bad film? Not at all. There were a lot of good performances and for the most part it avoided schmaltz or cheesiness. But the way the film was set up, coupled with the complex subject matter, was pretty much a recipe for disappointment. Still, I think it’s nice of Lifetime to take a look at the real effects of mental illness versus just depicting the mentally ill as evil stalkers, as they’re so apt to do.