Film Review: Elizabeth Blue

This sincere drama about a young woman afflicted with schizophrenia is tedious to watch.
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Elizabeth Blue is an earnest, heartfelt portrait of a young woman (Anna Schafer) suffering from a severe form of schizophrenia, among other disabling mental illnesses. It feels truthful, and perhaps that’s no coincidence. Its director Vincent Sabella has grappled with the same condition, he says. But veracity in itself does not good cinema make. An unbalanced mind may or may not be interesting. Either way, an immediate distance is created—such a tale appeals to the viewer’s inner gawker, even if only briefly.

With Elizabeth Blue, that problem—evoking short-lived voyeurism in the viewer—is coupled with a tedious form of storytelling, filmmaking and acting style. With the exception of a few intense moments, virtually every scene is identical in length, rhythm, cadence and tone. Facial expressions are uniformly blank and almost all the characters—including Elizabeth’s fiancé Grant (Ryan Vincent) and her psychiatrist Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)—speak to each other in monotone, barely audible drones, interspersed with pregnant silences. Sabella also favors unnecessary close-ups. In the opening sequence, it’s Elizabeth’s fingers wrapped around a phone cord and her mouth speaking into the telephone. An ongoing musical soundtrack—from Vivaldi to Nina Simone—adds nothing.

Elizabeth has recently been released from a hospital’s psychiatric department and lives with her forbearing fiancé in a Los Angeles apartment where she’s planning her upcoming wedding, even as she struggles with visual hallucinations (some benign, some not so benign), voices in her head, and an array of other anxieties, including paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She’s afraid her fiancé will jump ship—and who can blame him?—and has a deeply troubled relationship with her self-centered mother (nicely played by Kathleen Quinlan), who refuses to acknowledge Elizabeth’s mental illness or her role in making her daughter so wretchedly unhappy. Elizabeth’s late father is a central figure in their tug of war. Elizabeth regularly meets with her well-intentioned psychiatrist, who speaks to her soothingly and readjusts her various mood-altering medical cocktails. And that’s it in a nutshell: a nightmarish slice of life that Shafer captures. But who cares? The lack of narrative momentum—the dullness factor—has settled in. Admittedly, there is a plot twist at the very end that recasts the story a bit and that helps, but not enough.

That said, Elizabeth Blue could make an effective teaching tool for social workers and/or case managers handling those clients who are afflicted with massive psychiatric challenges.

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