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NewCityNet Ordinary Madness

By Ray Pride

JANUARY 17, 2000:  Doesn't everyone feel too sensitive for this world sometimes?

That's the limited landscape of the film version of "Girl, Interrupted," Susanna Kaysen's exquisite, minimal memoir of her 1967 stay in a psychiatric hospital for New England wealthy. (Sylvia Plath and James Taylor had been treated there, as well.) As James Mangold's third feature, following "Heavy" and "Copland," the result demonstrates his fascination with performance, looks and gazes. The script (by Mangold, Lisa Loomer and Anna Hamilton Phelan) necessarily has to amplify the delicate dabs of observation that comprise Kaysen's book. Diagnosed as having "borderline personality disorder," Kaysen is sent away to learn lessons from those she meets, as we always must in movies.

As the 17-year-old Kaysen, Winona Ryder is more winsome than ever, a fragile, spoiled thing, fluttery and Gauloise-smoking, who seems to believe that being misunderstood is the same as insanity. There are dramatic zigs and zags; the tone is uneven. (At least Mangold never stoops to sapphic sensationalism in depicting the community of troubled young girls.) But the performances are often electric. Ryder often looks less the gamine than an exquisitely pretty boy. But Angelina Jolie is on hand to once more work her raucous magic. As in every film she's had the chance to steal, Jolie is a live wire. Ryder can only stare wide-eyed, like Mangold, as she inhabits a role much the Jack Nicholson character from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," a brazenly sexy, rambunctious sociopath. While the portrait of the hospital as a haunted glade filled with the delicate and the damaged may never soar, the astonishing Jolie does.

Beyond her striking looks and fiery performances, the 24-year-old actress has been notorious for flaunting intimate details of her life in interviews, but her tattoos and her affinity for knives and cutting seem to occupy her less today than just playing the role of Angelina Jolie. "I'm very pleased where my career is at," she says. "But I have so many other sides of myself. There are so many parts of your life that are not perfect... or not even good. So it's funny when people say, 'This must be such a great time for you,' and I'm thinking, this is probably the worst time of my life in many ways!"

She's more willing to elaborate on the role of Lisa. She felt at home in her skin. "It was so settling that it was unsettling. I didn't put a bunch of things on her and make her crazy. I just felt that she was completely lacking certain things I had and living very much on impulse and trying hard to be fun." Jolie pauses before sprinting again. "I tried to be grounded with that, and I realized I wasn't dreaming, I wasn't thinking, I wasn't feeling. I went through the movie not feeling very much and having fun and when it hit me that I wasn't invested in anything and I wasn't getting what I needed to nourish me because I was thinking, 'I'm fine.' I was kind of doing cartwheels for everybody. And at the end of the day, I was exhausted. 'Cos I had been on all day. But during it, it was fun in some weird way."

She credits Mangold with helping her concentrate. "He just kind of corralled me. He encouraged certain things. He kept me focused so I didn't go all over the place, as I would! I mean, I did, but I didn't really go all over the place. With her, I think he wanted her to get a little off track. I don't know how to explain it, but I think with Lisa, I was thinking 101 things and thinking too much in a moment, but there are times I need to shut my head off and make the choice and just do it and be simpler. I think sometimes with her, Jim would want her to be bigger. Maybe he was just telling me to shut up and he wanted to hear more of her!"

Early reactions to the movie—and her role—have taken Jolie by surprise. "It gets me crazy when people do say, look at what she fucking did to [one character], look how mean she is to Susanna, my God. It is so strange when people are so comfortable with people that don't invest in other people, y'know, the people who are just not going to bother someone else, that's OK. I don't understand that."

She's moved on to another movie since, the car chase epic, "Gone in 60 Seconds," with Nicolas Cage. "I need that," she says, earnestly. "I need to be silly. I needed to just be around Nic and those guys and have a silly time with them and just be happy and just be with nice people. There are so many people who are like saying, 'You're doing this B movie?'" Like they expect more from you. And that's terrible. I can't do this? I wanted to just play."


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