Robert G. Putka’s new film MAD–which premiered earlier this year at Sundance and was featured last night at the Boston Underground Film Festival–is competently crafted and enlivened by mostly sympathetic performances. But it’s hard to get very excited about it. There are simply too many better (and plenty crazier) movies out there about mental illness and the people forced to find a way to accommodate it, whether within their own psyches or the rarely unwarped web of family relations.
The three characters at the center of MAD ostensibly represent both sides of the divide between the sufferers and those who suffer them. Sixty-something Mel (Maryann Plunkett) is hospitalized due to a severe depressive episode, after which her doggedly dissembling daughters Connie and Casey (Jennifer Lafleur and Eilis Cahill, respectively) jockey to invest as little as possible in her recovery. Rather than confront their immediate concerns–namely who will, who should, and who is mature and unfucked-up enough to take care of Mel upon her release–they circle each other and snarl, smugly or sullenly rehashing childhood antagonisms.
The main players’ life situations are dutifully dialed in. Casey, the younger sister, vaguely aspires to be a writer, meanwhile paying the bills via webcam stripteases performed in the room she refuses to set aside for Mel. Connie is an ambitious white-collar professional with two kids and a stay-at-home husband. Mel, muttery and ascatter, feels lonely and abandoned by the husband who’s divorcing her. She’s pretty nearly abandoned, too, by the movie about her; most of Mel’s screen-time is dominated by another inmate, or patient (Mark Reeb), a neck-brace-encased closet-case whose constant chatter might serve as comic relief if it were either of those things. Reeb gives it a champion go, but can only work with what he’s given.
The same can be said for the rest of the ensemble here–the four stars put in competent, even charismatic performances, but it’s not enough to galvanize the underwritten, under-interesting roles provided for them.
The conflicts set up in the film’s first ten minutes telegraph revelations of character and backstory that never really amount to anything, if they arrive at all. Despite a few promisingly funny, lacerating exchanges–mostly emerging from clashes between Connie and the corporate overlords seeking to scapegoat her for an office-wide corruption scandal–MAD ultimately falls well short of the compellingly bitter comedy of (atrociously) bad manners epitomized by Todd Solondz’ acerbic filmography, clearly a primary influence here. Whatever potential might have inhered in the film’s source material is undermined by an increasing reliance on the tired conventions of Amer-Indie cinema and/or the television shows well on their way to replacing it.
In summation, MAD, which might have been scabrous, or at least moving, or at least, I don’t know, something else worth being, instead succumbs to the sweetly chiming hipster-sentimentalism of its undeniably catchy, accomplished, lightly nauseating soundtrack. It’s more cute than cracked.
dir. Robert G. Putka