Manic (2001)

Over a decade later, Manic feels too familiar for its own good. An indie with an impressive cast – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Don Cheadle – it spends its time in the walls of a psychiatric institution. Handheld, Dogme 95-style camerawork indicates the film’s insistence on naturalism, but the institution itself feels filmic, like any other cinematic crazy house. That camerawork proves to be the film’s biggest liability. It’s too rough, juddering and obsessed with unnecessary close-ups.

Still, there’s a lot to like here. The story is conventional: angry young man (Gordon-Levitt) finds meaning, thanks to a preternaturally caring counsellor (Cheadle). But these actors raise their characters above archetypes through sheer acting talent; Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as raw nerve Lyle, who responds to conflict with animalistic violence.

One of the more interesting things about the film is the soundtrack, which sets two genres of the time against one another. With Slipknot and Deftones, the film shows how nu-metal touched a nerve with disenfranchised youth, an outlet for aggression and unfocused rebellion. But Manic casts it lot with a decidedly different genre, characterised by Aphex Twin’s IDM. The film posits that violence is never a solution; a simple message, but an effective one.

2.5 stars

8 thoughts on “Manic (2001)

  1. Agreed on all points.

    I have actually been meaning to rewatch this, as I couldn’t stop thinking about while watching Short Term 12 (which is probably better).

    • It certainly pales in comparison to Short Term 12; I think I might have liked it more if the spectre of that (amazing) film didn’t loom over it.

  2. Good review Dave. I remember actually watching this during the early days of Netflix Instant and I was pleasantly surprised. The low-budget definitely gets in the way of what could have been a very powerful story, but more often than not, the story touched me. It also gave us a nice glimpse at what JGL and Zooey would turn out to be in (500) Days of Summer, if you want to look at it that way.

    • I found the story felt a little too contrived to really hit as hard as it should have, but as I said above to jjames36, that’s probably because I’m just comparing it unfavourably to Short Term 12, which was achingly authentic. Thanks 🙂

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