It's too bad that one great performance can't save some movies from their own worst tendencies. Otherwise, "Girl, Interrupted" might be a real doozy.
Actually, this period piece based on Susanna Kaysen's best-selling, autobiographical novel features two terrific performances, one from executive producer and star Winona Ryder and the other from star-in-the-making Angelina Jolie, who comes close to making the movie hers with a truly magnetic co-starring turn.
Yet even with them in it, the film still succumbs to heavy-handedness and extremely predictable plotting to the point of seeming unbelievably calculating and contrived, despite the fact that it's based on a true story.
Of course, the obvious comparisons to the much-better "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" certainly don't help, and neither do a more than two hour running time and a surprisingly grating musical score by the usually dependable Mychael Danna.
Still, it's clear that the film is a labor of love for Ryder, who stars as Kaysen, age 17. Having unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide, the sullen teen's (rightfully) worried parents are at their wit's end.
So with their "encouragement," Susanna commits herself to Claymoore Psychiatric Hospital, where she is convinced she'll be for only a short time. However, the doctors there (Jeffrey Tambor and Vanessa Redgrave) don't seem so sure.
And even though she's horrified to be there, at least at first, Susanna begins to feel at home in Claymoore, by first befriending her fellow patients (Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy and Elisabeth Moss) and later, falling under the sway of Lisa (Jolie), a charismatic sociopath who encourages all of her worst tendencies.
That's a sure sign to the administrators that Susanna is only getting worse especially to Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg), a sympathetic nurse who encourages Susanna to write down her feelings and fears in a journal.
It's in that particularly clunky final section that the film really starts to fall apart. Up to that point the film works as a somewhat sentimentalized human drama, though its pretensions to be an indictment of the mental-health system are somewhat misplaced and misbegotten.
In fact, you could say that the film itself suffers from a personality disorder. Given that the script was written by committee director James Mangold and two other writers are credited, but more were involved that comes as no big surprise.
Again, though, the film does boast fine acting from Ryder, who's convincingly confused, yet still sympathetic as Kaysen. And she gets good support from Goldberg, DuVall, Murphy and Moss, who make the most of their limited screentime.
But the film's real selling point is Jolie, whose lively performance may make you wish the film has been about her character instead.
"Girl, Interrupted" is rated R for profanity, simulated drug use (both medications and marijuana), use of crude sexual slang terms and some vulgar humor, violent restraint and some slapping and fleeting female nudity.