Manic

on April 25, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
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In a performance that's a far cry from the silliness of "3rd Rock From the Sun," Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Lyle, a teen with an anger management problem who's sent to a mental institution after beating the hell out of one of his peers on the baseball field. Despite his best intentions to wait out his sentence, meeting his counselor David (Don Cheadle)'s guidance with determined, steely silence, he continues to act out, egged on by another bully in the hospital, upending a foosball table and throwing Rage Against the Machine into the CD player to inspire an impromptu mosh pit in the community room.

   There's something romantic about Lyle's passionate, unbridled, physical expression of his emotions--portrayed so intensely by the lithe Gordon-Levitt--that attracts both the other patients and the audience. He befriends Chad (Michael Bacall), making elaborate plans for his trust fund when they get out, and falls in love with Tracy (Zooey Deschanel), a shy girl plagued by nightmares so vivid that she screams at the top of her lungs in her sleep.

   Gradually, Lyle starts to make progress in his therapy, turning the other cheek when taunted into a fight rather than diving in with fists flying. But when tragedy strikes, he regresses to his old ways and takes the first chance he gets to escape.

   Shooting digitally, director Jordan Melamed creates a despondent atmosphere by using sepia tones that reflect the mood inside the compound. Close-ups establish a sense of intimacy with the characters, especially during their group therapy sessions when they're sharing their hopes, dreams and fears, and emulates the sense of claustrophobia they must be feeling. The handheld camerawork, often used in close-up, lends a sense of urgency to the action taking place in such a static environment. There's even some creative editing wherein David evaluates the progress his clients have made, and their responses--including his answer to his own question--are spliced in one after another.

   Gordon-Levit t, Deschanel and Cody Lightning, who plays Lyle's adolescent roommate Kenny, a victim of sexual abuse whose stubborn silences are infuriatingly frustrating, should be commended for matching acting veteran Cheadle's gravity in their roles. They could easily have fallen short of the fury that needed to be expressed, but they don't: One doesn't doubt for one moment that Gordon-Levitt really is beating that bully into a bloody pulp or that Tracy fears for her very life while she dreams. Starring Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Bacall, Zooey Deschanel, Cody Lightning, Elden Henson and Sara Rivas. Directed by Jordan Melamed. Written by Michael Bacall and Blayne Weaver. Produced by Trudi Callon and Kirk Hassig. An IFC release.. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 100 min

Tags: Starring Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Bacall, Zooey Deschanel, Cody Lightning, Elden Henson and Sara Rivas. Directed by Jordan Melamed. Written by Michael Bacall, Blayne Weaver, Produced by Trudi Callon, Kirk Hassig, IFC, Drama
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