Movie Review – No Letting Go
For his first feature, Jonathan Bucari adapted his short film Illness (2013), which focuses on a white, suburban family in southeastern New York whose middle child is suffering from a mental problem. Particularly, that middle child has Bipolar Disorder. There aren’t many films about Bipolar Disorder on the surface, and none of them center on a child dealing with it. The last major production was Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and while the son of that movie’s director had bipolar disorder, the film itself was about an adult in a screwball comedy. It’s rare to find a movie that faces the frank reality of the day-to-day troubles a family would have on its hands, if its little boy was slapped with this issue.
This past year, the daytime drama General Hospital started a story-line involving a teenager named Morgan Corinthos being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the family being rattled by it and eventually having that teen institutionalized against his will. That climax came on the March 4th episode and it was portrayed brilliantly by Emmy-nominee Bryan Craig. Craig is older and more experienced than the teenager in this movie, so it is perhaps unfair to compare the two, but because Craig’s performance is fresh on my mind and because I was so impressed by Craig, I couldn’t ignore it.
However, the true performance that Bucari puts on display and at the forefront is Cheryl Allison who stars as Catherine Spencer, the matriarch and sole female in the Spencer clan, which includes her husband Henry, played by Richard Burgi, and her three sons. Why Craig’s performance was present in my mind also had to do with the fact that Burgi is also on the long-running series General Hospital. Burgi is a good actor but he has a distinct vibe and persona that he exudes in both the soap opera and this movie.
Allison though does a lot of the heavy-lifting as the first half or nearly two-thirds of the movie is told through Catherine’s eyes and her point-of-view. It’s her fear, her exasperation and her guilt that largely drives the narrative. As much as the story is about her middle child’s bipolar disorder, it’s Catherine’s emotional wave that the audience rides.
Noah Silverman (pictured above) co-stars as Tim Spencer, the aforementioned child with bipolar disorder. Silverman is actually the second actor in the movie who plays Tim. David Schallipp plays Tim at age 10. Silverman plays Tim at age 14. He has long, blonde hair, which covers his face almost completely, and mostly his head is down as Tim swings from long bouts of depression, not wanting to leave his bed let alone the house, to fits of anger where he can’t get away from his family fast enough.
What Bucari does is limit Tim’s language. Tim’s sentences never exceed three, four or even five words. “I hate this” or “I hate you” or “I can’t do this” or “I want to go home.” On General Hospital, Morgan’s language isn’t limited. Morgan is rather insightful and very communicative. He can’t control his emotions but he is rather intelligent.
Tim spends most of this movie avoiding school, so it’s obvious he’s not as educated or as intelligent, which further hinders him, but Tim could be smarter. He just doesn’t want to learn, it seems. Aside from being excited about writing a song, Tim isn’t up to doing anything. Morgan is more passionate about doing things and being useful.
In that regard, both depictions have their characters less on a swing and more on a seesaw where one is down and the other is up. On General Hospital, Morgan is mostly up and here, Tim is mostly down. Catherine in several scenes literally has to drag him out of bed. Tim, however, does have his moments of physicality, which threatens violence.
Yet, we’re never given a reason why. At least with Morgan, the show put us more inside Morgan’s head. Here, we’re less inside Tim’s head. We’re more inside Catherine’s head. We’re inside of it as she hits it against a brick wall on both sides. While loud explosions, emotional bursts from the children, draw attention, it’s Catherine’s slow meltdown that Bucari values more.
It’s great that Bucari also allows Tim’s brothers to express what they’re feeling. After which, the film shifts to being more from Tim’s perspective. We follow him as he gets a better understanding of his illness through his contact with fellow sufferers. Yet, the shift might be too little, too late. It reminded me of the shift made in the Oscar-winning film Room (2015), which also builds to a crucial hair-cutting moment by the protagonist.
Room shifts dynamics. It never truly shifts points of view. This movie does to an extent. We go from following Catherine to following Tim, mostly but not exclusively. Like Room though, it should have happened sooner, as I never felt like I got enough into Tim’s head.
But, for any family dealing with this illness, this movie conveys an experience that might echo. It also gives others a window that hopefully helps to provide understanding, as an apparent theme that Bucari drums is that most people don’t understand what being bipolar is nor how to handle it.
One statistic at the end of the movie is that only 20 % of people, including children, diagnosed with bipolar disorder receive treatment. This is probably due to whether those people can afford it. The family in this movie can afford it being a somewhat affluent or else privileged, white family. It’s sad to think what poor minorities with this issue do, not having the resources depicted in this film at all.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.
In limited release in Los Angeles with upcoming screenings across the country.
Available on VOD on March 30, 2016, which is World Bipolar Day.
For more information on Bipolar Disorder, visit The International Society of Bipolar Disorders.