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Crazylove
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by David Cornelius

"Iffymovie."
3 stars

What is it with movies and mental institutions?

Here we have “Crazylove,” a perfectly good movie about an overstressed woman sufferering a serious nervous breakdown, but then the movie goes and puts her in one of those cutesy hospitals from Movie World - you know the type, where all the patients are friendly and just crazy enough to be adorably kooky. And it’s there she meets a hunky scamp of a fellow patient; he’s schizophrenic, we’re told, although his illness only manifests itself whenever the plot needs a convenient conflict.

But while “Crazylove” can’t quite escape the sloppiness of its clichéd, candy-coated setting, it still works enough in spots, thanks to a fine central performance and just enough heartbreak in the scenes set outside the institution. This is a touching drama trapped inside a dopey one, and sometimes, when the timing’s just right, the touching drama breaks free.

Reiko Aylesworth (“24”) plays Letty, an elementary school teacher on her last nerve. She’s just been granted permission to run a time-consuming after-school project, but everyone around her would rather talk about themselves. Boyfriend Paul (David Alan Basche) is bucking for a promotion and dodging the marriage question; sister Ruth (Marla Sokoloff) just got engaged and demands Letty help with all the planning; their mother (JoBeth Williams) spends all her time doting on Ruth and ignoring Letty, except to nitpick. At the height of her stress, Letty is asked to plan a major dinner party, which ultimately pushes her beyond her emotional limits. She suffers a serious breakdown one night in a supermarket, assaulting an employee and trashing the specialty foods aisle.

So far, so good. Aylesworth does a wonderful job of bringing her character’s stress levels to a snapping point without overselling the inner pain and without turning the whole affair into a soppy melodrama. The supporting cast keep their potentially villainous natures equally in check; the clueless, pushy, self-centered mother is a shopworn character, but Williams plays it low-key enough that it never quite feels like a cliché.

Then we arrive at the hospital, and things start falling apart. There are no real people here, only movie characters - and vaguely drawn ones at that, such as the barely-there “gentle giant” played by Meat Loaf. He’s a super-sweet guy, a huggably dumb oaf, but he comes and goes from the picture so abruptly that we never get a sense for who he is beyond set dressing. He’s the character we can spot and say, “oh, look, it’s Meat Loaf playing a mentally challenged fellow, I suppose that makes this place quaint.”

Bruno Campos is cast as Michael, the aforementioned schizophrenic hunk. Michael is nothing more than a cheap blend of a handful of hackneyed “lovable nut” characters - a little Johnny Depp from “Benny & Joon” here, a little Jack Nicholson from “Cuckoo’s Nest” there, etc. Michael is the life of the party, sneaking out to order pizza, pretending to be a doctor, making kooky faces during group therapy. And all the while he’s the kindhearted leader of the crazies, carefully watching over the more fragile patients while the absentminded doctors (among them Greg Germann) forget to care. It’s a good performance - Campos lends the character some much-needed compassion - but as written, the character remains mired in weak caricature.

Naturally, Letty and Michael fall in love. It’s never a love we believe, but we roll with it. And then the movie goes and does something surprising: it fights hard to return to reality. Michael and, later, Letty are granted release, and they move in together. Here, the screenplay, from rookie scribe Carol Watson, fixes itself, more or less, as it dares to look beyond the expected happily-ever-after ending. The story takes us into their lives after the institution. Was their romance just the result of short-term intense emotional closeness, or can it bloom outside the hospital walls? Can they return to normalcy after having “crazy” stamped on their permanent record? Can their lives resume, or will they be forced to find new directions filled with too many compromises?

The movie cheats a little by whipping up conflict that never feels like anything beyond script contrivance, a struggle to force the characters against their will (and ours) into an unnecessary third act dramatic climax. But overall, the finale is a nice touch, a way of breaking free from the lazy confines of nuthouse-as-wonderland silliness.

Aylesworth does a fantastic job of keeping her character grounded, no matter how far removed from reality the rest of the picture tries to go, and her final scenes have a sweetness to them that would not be possible without such a solid performance. “Crazylove” is a bit too scattershot to ever click on the level it hopes to achieve, and yet its central star and its central character both maintain a watchability that keeps the movie moving forward quite well.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16460&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/05/07 07:33:26
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USA
  14-Feb-2006 (R)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  23-Aug-2006
  DVD: 23-Aug-2006




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