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Call Me Crazy: A Five Film: TV Review

Call Me Crazy Jennifer Hudson Still - H 2013
Michael Desmond/Lifetime

The Bottom Line

Despite some heavy-handed moments, the anthology successfully ignites an emotional response.

Airdate

8 p.m. Saturday, April 20 (Lifetime)

Directors

Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bonnie Hunt, Ashley Judd, Sharon Maguire

Cast

Brittany Snow, Jennifer Hudson, Melissa Leo, Octavia Spencer, Sofia Vassilieva, Ernie Hudson, Jason Ritter, Jean Smart, Lea Thompson, Melanie Griffith, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Hyland

Lifetime's star-studded but emotionally exhausting short-film collection about mental illness is a mixed bag.

In 2011, Lifetime debuted Five, which, through five short films, chronicled moments in the lives of women with breast cancer. The cable network collected recognizable names and faces on both sides of the camera for the project, with mixed results. In his review, THR's David Knowles called it "a heavy-handed therapy session,and while there certainly are moments where that feels true in Five's follow-up, Call Me Crazy (this time about mental illness), its earnestness should not be dismissed.

Each of the five stories -- "Lucy," "Grace," "Allison," "Eddie" and "Maggie" -- focuses on one individual who is suffering from mental illness or living with someone who does. One character, the schizophrenic Lucy (Brittany Snow), appears in three of the five vignettes.

Like breast cancer, mental illness is an issue that touches nearly everyone in some way: About a quarter of the population has a diagnosable disorder. But unlike breast cancer, mental illness can be seen as a secret shame, something that Call Me Crazy touches on briefly but doesn't delve into too far. In fact, despite the short-film format, each minimovie is able whisk through unpleasantness quickly to tie things up neatly and find emotional resolution. It reminds me of another quote from Knowles on the original Five film: "In its weaker moments, it can feel like an afterschool special."

Like Five, Call Me Crazy boasts an impressive cast, including Jennifer Hudson, Melissa Leo, Octavia Spencer, Sofia Vassilieva, Ernie Hudson, Jason Ritter, Jean Smart, Lea Thompson, Melanie Griffith and Chelsea Handler. But the packed house leaves some, like Griffith, barely appearing onscreen or not having much to do (Handler stands in the background of "Eddie" mostly looking at her phone). A few though, like Leo, find a way to make the most of their moments and really shine.

The stories deal with several disorders, from schizophrenia to bipolar, depression and PTSD. The most affecting of these is portrayed by Leo ("Grace"), a bipolar mother whose daughter (Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) has had the burden of caring for her for most of her life. Those types of family issues, the support (or lack thereof) of friends, alienation, finding help and, sometimes, dealing with legal consequences are all part of the surrounding issues of mental illness that the collection does an admirable job of illustrating despite the occasional bad wig and whirlwind timeline ("Maggie" is particularly guilty of this misstep).

As for those behind the camera, "Grace," directed by Laura Dern, is the most stylish and emotional, though each segment has its moments (Bryce Dallas Howard does a particularly good job of portraying the pervasive and claustrophobic sadness of mental institutions in "Lucy"). Ashley Judd's "Maggie" is rushed and can feel messy, while Bonnie Hunt's "Eddie" is a fairly rote visual portrayal of depression but still emotionally resonates. "Allison," directed by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones's Diary) is a companion piece to "Lucy" that is good but not remarkable. 

Call Me Crazy seems to want to bring a dialogue about mental illness out into the open, but like the original Five film, it does so with mixed results. While the collection doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the table in its quick portrayals, it does at times successfully ignite an emotional response (a trait that also makes it exhausting.) Ultimately, though, depending on your own experience with mental illness or loving those who suffer from it, the overarching message of hope might be a resounding one despite the collection's other flaws.