Screen: Cabin Creek Films

Will Running From Crazy Leave You Out Of Breath?

Mariel Hemingway's documentary memoir of her family's struggles with mental illness isn't quite what she thinks it is -- but it's very watchable.

Topic

Actress and yoga practitioner Mariel Hemingway explores her family's history of mental illness, and tries to find positive meaning in their individual tragedies.

How Far I Expected To Get

I like Mariel Hemingway; she has her limits as an actress, and hasn't always bet the right ponies (remember Central Park West? her wardrobe alone, blargle), but as a documentary subject, you can do worse than sweet and genuine. And I'd heard her and filmmaker Barbara Kopple -- an Oscar-winning documentarian whose work you've probably seen (Shut Up and Sing; Harlan County USA) -- on "The Leonard Lopate Show" talking about the movie; it sounded interesting.

The presence of Oprah Winfrey on the executive-producer roster gave me pause, though, because I have a lot of respect for Oprah as a mogul and hall-of-fame packager, but the end product itself is seldom for me; her brand is a saccharine and shortcutty "spirituality." Mariel Hemingway in recent years has focused career-wise on yoga videos and mindful eating and that sort of thing. The combination could have turned into a big old strangling lapel ribbon made of vegan marshmallows* and I really wasn't sure what I could expect.

When It Won Me Over

13:00

What Did It

Running From Crazy still kiiiiind of runs from the tough discussions; Mariel shares a lot of difficult facts, and memories, but the documentary feels more like a therapeutic exercise for her, at times, than a memoir about dealing with -- or refusing to deal with -- the family's illnesses mental and physical, the denial, the alcoholism, et cetera.

But if that's the framework Mariel needed to write what amounts to an elegy of her sisters' lost sanity (thanks, she basically says outright, to their father molesting them as children; Mariel escaped that fate by sleeping with her mother until she moved out at 16, at her mother's insistence...so...that's a double handful of information for you), it's still effective and watchable, and Mariel's description of her oldest sister, Muffet, as "super-gentle" really struck me for some reason. It's all the more striking when you realize what Mariel, still, even in the context of this very documentary, can't quite bring herself to say, which is that Muffet has done a lot of speed and spent a lot of time on anti-psychotics and she makes Mariel uncomfortable, either because her illness makes her awkward or because she's the crazy Mariel's still afraid she can't outrun.

What she ends up running to is striking too. She has a pleasant relationship with her ex-husband, to whom she was married for 24 years and whom she nursed through Stage IV metastatic melanoma, but I got the sense that she may have left because Steve had her number; she calls it "I wasn't able to be myself," but I think perhaps her searching for what "myself" really meant had gotten quite a bit less interesting to him after two decades and a fight for his own survival. Meanwhile, Mariel ends up with a boyfriend/business partner named Bob who's one of those condescending tyranny-of-bicycle trampoline-instructor twats who talks to Mariel like she's a fearful child. She burbles that she's learned to play since being with Bob, but...Bob kind of sucks. He probably owns a unicycle; he definitely gives her attitude for hitting a rock while they're...off-roading in a Mini Cooper? His pinko idea, no doubt. Then he hits some huge divot and takes off half the bottom panel of the car, and THEN he asks her to "be a boy, for just one minute" and forbids any more "girl talk," and then he bullies her into going rock-climbing anyway and implies that she's unattractively controlling when she'd rather talk about the towing issue. And I'm pretty sure the Mini is her car. I wanted to scream, watching that, because it's like, honey, everyone ends up with her dad some way or another, it's a fact of life. The trick is to pick the good bits; Bob is the smug, competitive, withholding bits. And on some level, she needs exactly that, and it's just kind of a pity to watch.

Worth Taking A Run At It?

In spite of "Not Great" Bob, I enjoyed it; it gets at some things, about the messy truths of having a sibling and all the people in every family history who got too sad to live, for lack of a better term, before we knew how to handle that. Her reasons for crying when Margaux died; her ex talking about the ways she's always given her power away; that quality Mariel has always had in her acting of a woman trying to become who she is, that turns out to be elementally her -- it's hard to say if she learned what she set out to with Running From Crazy, but it's a good story regardless.

* better than the original, IMHO; don't email me

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