Katie Holmes Luke Kirby Christine Lahti Griffin Dunne Bruce Altman
Mania Days tells the story of the not-so-charmed lives of two young people who meet in a mental hospital. Both have manic-depressive disorders and have trouble staying on their medication. Marco (Kirby) is forcibly taken for treatment by his father (Dunne), but Carla (Holmes) was deceived when she went there to look at her old records. The physician indicated that they needed more time to go over them, and got her to sign herself in. Carla didn’t read carefully what she was signing, so when she wanted to leave the next day, she was told she needed her doctor’s approval.
The two are not immediately attracted to each other until they discover they’re both poets, and soon after, they become good friends. When they begin to explore some of Marco’s ideas about art, life, and what’s beyond, they join together on a project that keeps them up late into the night. Based on this and their increasing mania, the doctor forbids them to work together at night. They are persistent, however, and thus begins their struggle to make a life together.
What follows is a series of admissions and escapes from the hospital, conflicts with parents, and numerous escapades. They even get separated once without having exchanged contact information, and must rely on a previously devised code for a meet-up. Throughout most of the film, the audience cannot tell whether they will make it together or not.
Paul Dalio, the writer/director has based the story partly on his own experience with manic-depressive disorder, one that invariably creates chaos, with questions about whether the disorder is really a sickness, whether the medication is necessary especially when it seems to dampen passion and creativity, and parental dilemmas that arise when their children reach young adulthood. Dalio’s script gives a very good overview of what these families experience, the heartbreaking incidents that can occur, the parental challenges, and the agony of finding the proper medication and dosage.
Holmes and Kirby are entirely convincing in their portrayals, and clearly have good chemistry as actors—not surprising, since they’re in the news as a couple. The scenes in the hospital with other patients are entertaining—and realistically portrayed—except for the group therapy session. I would have liked to see a more skilled leader who was actually therapeutic in his interventions.
Overall, this is a good film for people who want to know more about the everyday experiences of families who are struggling with relatively serious mental issues. It is objective in its approach, and clearly shows that not all of the problems that arise have easy answers. It touches on, but does not answer, the long-standing question about whether great artists like van Gogh could have created great works if they didn’t have the disorder or had been taking medications like those currently in use.
The bumpy ride of manic-depressive disorder.
Paul Dalio responded to my questions about the film after the SXSW Film Festival. (Note: For the sake of brevity some of the questions and responses have been edited.)
1. I see that your mentor, Spike Lee, was an executive producer of Mania Days. What was the nature of his involvement?
Spike was my professor at NYU, where he offers to look at what his students have created and give advice. I first gave him a rap musical called “Storytelling.” He saw something in it that no one else—even I—had not seen. Next, I showed him a more commercial script, and he advised me to go back to the rap musical. He said, “If you make that your first feature, I’ll executive produce it.” He helped me go within myself to find a story that was unique to me, and let my intuition be the critic instead of outsiders. This led me to write Mania Days, which I took to him, asking him to be a producer, which he did. At the premiere during the Q&A, he said, “I felt like Paul had to tell this story; it was cathartic for him.”
2. The music in Mania Days is really fine, and I am impressed you composed it, along with writing, directing, and editing. Do you plan to continue as much involvement in your future films?
Thanks for the compliment; the music was my favorite part. I happen to love doing several crafts in film making. It was helpful to compose the music for Mania Days because it’s difficult to articulate what it’s like to see through manic eyes. I am hoping that I have proven myself to be competent in the various roles I played on this film so I can do the same in the future.
3. As a psychologist, I had a bit of a problem with the group leader in the film. What was your source for that character?
I’m sorry you had a problem with the group leader. I’ve been in several hospitals with different group leaders, and they’re all different. Some are like the one in the film. But in all fairness, I was seeing all of them through manic eyes.