Last Friday, I went to the theater to see “500 Days of Summer“. You may wonder what that has to do with the movie I’m gonna talk about today. Well, both movies star Joesph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. I would definitely recommend seeing “500 Days of Summer” if you haven’t checked it out yet. It was great.
On a side note, it was also the director’s, Marc Webb, first full-length movie. He is known for directing music videos. In fact he directed four of the most memorable videos for my favorite band “AFI” (Days of the Phoenix, Leaving Song Part II, Miss Murder and Love Like Winter). He did a fantastic job and I fully expect to see him direct more movies in the future.
Ok, back to “Manic”. First off, let me say that this is a dark, gritty, intense and disturbing drama (involving teens). I’m not saying that to put you off, it’s a terrific movie. It’s just, if you are feeling down and need a pick me up, this is not the movie for you. Wait to watch it until you are in the right frame of mind.
Lyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 17-year-old kid that has been put into the juvenile ward of a mental hospital. He has anger management issues. In fact, he almost killed another kid by hitting him repeatedly with a baseball bat. At first, he is quiet and keeps to himself a lot. He’s a tough character to read, but as the story unfolds we learn a lot more about him and why he is like he is.
Dr. David Monroe (Don Cheadle) is the staff psychologist in charge of the juvenile ward. He’s a caring individual that really wants to help the kids. He runs interactive group sessions, as well as, individual sessions with them. Most of the kids seem to like him and feel comfortable talking to him. That’s not to say his job is easy, in fact it’s far from it.
Tracey (Zooey Deschanel) is very quiet and suffers from low self-esteem. Sara is a goth girl that cuts herself and has anger issues. Mike is a bully that really enjoys fighting; both physically and verbally. Chad (Michael Bacall – who also happens to be the co-writer of this movie) is a manic-depressive, who also cuts himself. The youngest one there is Kenny (Cody Lightning), he is only 12. He is very quiet and withdrawn. We don’t understand why he is there until pretty far into the story.
We watch as they go through their daily routine. We see group sessions, in addition to seeing the interpersonal relationships between the different teens. Right off the bat you can feel the tension between Lyle and Mike. They both have a lot of anger and issues with violence and see each other as a threat.
It doesn’t take long before we see Lyle’s protective side coming out. His roommate is Kenny. Lyle senses Kenny’s vulnerability and feels the need to protect him. Lyle also becomes drawn to Tracey. She also comes off as very vulnerable and in need of someone to look after her, Lyle takes on that role.
All of the actors did a good job. However, Joseph and Don were the standouts. The character of Lyle is very complex and emotionally guarded (at least until he explodes with anger). Joseph really excels at portraying characters like this; multi-dimensional and with many layers. If you have never seen him play a tough guy before, you will be blown away. Don is so believable as the doctor. He has an air of authority about him, without coming off as superior. I especially love him when he is doing the group sessions with the teens. He is able to balance the doctor vs. friend that you can talk to role very well.
The way the movie is filmed gives us a very up-close, intimate look at the teens. It’s done in a hand held style with a lot of extremely close facial shots. Some shots are slightly blurry or shaky (but not to the point of being annoying). The techniques really elevate the intensity of the scenes and draw you in. You feel like you are there with them.
Some of my favorite scenes (without being too spoilery):
When Lyle finds out that he is going to be taken away to the psych wing of the hospital. It is such an intense, emotional scene. He doesn’t want to go and is fighting and pleading with his mom to help him. It is absolutely traumatic and heartbreaking. Joseph totally nails it.
I love the anarchy scene. When Lyle and Chad play “Head Up” by the Deftones during the community music time. They take advantage of the fact that there are no authority figures around at the time and let loose; moshing, running around, throwing things and generally creating chaos. Most of the others end up joining in too.
Sara and Chad arguing over who would win in a fight, Wolverine or Batman. It’s so funny. They are both taking it so seriously and then everyone else starts joining in, including Doctor Monroe.
Some of my favorite quotes:
Doctor Monroe – “You don’t think you chose the actions that caused you to be in this room right now sitting in front of me?”
Lyle – “I didn’t choose to be here.”
Doctor Monroe – “you didn’t choose to bash that kid’s head in with a baseball bat?”
Lyle – “Hey, can you tell this f*ck to get up? He’s f*ckin’ depressing me.”
Doctor Monroe – “These questions were handed down to me by Yoda, actually.”
Lyle – “”Who is the most important person in you life?” I don’t really think … uh … I’ve met that person yet.”
Chad – “Dude, I’d be so f*ckin’ dead without music.”
Lyle – “Superman could bring them all down.”
Lyle – “No, I had a reason. I don’t just do sh*t for no reason.”
Doctor Monroe – “I’m just curious how someone as seemingly intelligent as you could hurt another human being that bad and have no remorse for it whatsoever.”
Lyle – “He deserved it.”
Lyle – “I wasn’t sure if that was a bird or that crazy dude over there. That guy is insane.”
Tracey – “That’s what they say about all of us though.”
Doctor Monroe – “That’s totally irrelevant, Lyle. Everybody wanted to smack him upside the head, but you did it.”
Doctor Monroe – “Lyle, wherever you’re going you are still gonna be there.”
Following is additional information about the show that contains spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read any further.
It was so tragic to learn that most of the kids problems stemmed from abuse at home; either physical, mental or sexual. The only way they found to deal with it was through violence, drugs and/or self-harm.
The scene when Chad slits Charlie’s throat is horrific (I don’t mean gore wise, I mean emotionally). The whole scene is so intense and you can just feel the helplessness coming off of the others. They want so badly to stop him, but there is absolutely nothing they can do to get through to him. You can just see it in Chad’s eyes, the moment he gives up on life and chooses to pull the knife across Charlie’s throat.
Lyle manages to escapes from the hospital, but after seeing Van Gogh’s “Wheat Fields With Crows” on the side of a bus he decides to turn around and go back. It is a symbolic image for him and a reminder that he still has a lot to work on before he will be capable of functioning in society again (without causing harm to himself or others).