"Like Crazy" is a bipolar Italian film about two bipolar women who meet in a small exclusive, low-security mental hospital, escape and visit their traumatizing families.
It's a dramatic comedy – a very entertaining and well-acted one – until the women's behavior and the plot both crash into depression and we're knee-deep in the truism that there's nothing funny about mental illness.
And therein lies a small problem. We don't really laugh at mental illness anymore – not in this country. We try to let compassion rule our responses to it, not yucks. We're a long way from people, a couple of centuries ago, who took Sunday jaunts to the nuthouse for family amusement.
Even so, what can't be avoided – especially by people who have had some first-hand knowledge of those suffering from mental illness – is that it's just flat-out funny sometimes when we encounter people whose responses to the world diverge so radically from our own. It's an infallible indicator of how limited we are, but people can't always will themselves to be bigger and better.
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi plays Beatrice, a self-advertised aristocrat who can't stop talking. She tells everyone she's a countess and acts like a princess, freely insulting all the rest of us peons at will. "You ugly paupers" is what she calls the staff of the hospital on grounds that, she says, once belonged to her family. She brags about knowing Berlusconi and "Hillary and Bill."
When Donatella (Micaela Ramizotti) is committed to the place for severe depression, one of the more humane – and inspired – members of the hospital staff puts her in a room with Beatrice "who never stops talking, even in her sleep."
Between the two of them – one manic, one depressed – they make up a weirdly whole and functioning person. Until the bus that takes them to their outpatient plant nursery job is late and they escape on a city bus to the nearest mall.
Humor happens there. But also the beginning of the inevitable crash when things completely stop being funny. We become acquainted with the families and grim situations that brought them into the world of psychiatric therapy.
So it's a movie that begins manic and then turns into a blunt look at depression and the depressing lives that go with them.
It's funny at the beginning. And powerful at the end. And both the Italian actresses are wonderful and affecting.
You have to wonder a little if we're not still, in our advanced 21st century way, doing what they might have done on a beautiful Sunday afternoon 150 years ago – taking a picnic basket with us and being entertained by watching those in what they used to call "the loony bin" (which some black-humored denizens and alumni still talk of that way).
Compassion wins out in "Like Crazy," but it's hard-won.
Three stars out of four
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Micaela Ramazotti in dramatic comedy about a jabbering countess and a depressed mother who become friends in an exclusive mental hospital. 116 minutes. Unrated but PG-13 equivalent for language and theme. In Italian with subtitles.