'Borderline': Film Review

Borderline - Still 1-Regina- Publicity-H 2016
Courtesy of Studio Comma
This disturbing doc is frustratingly limited in its scope.

Rebbie Ratner's documentary, executive produced by Barbara Kopple, profiles a 45-year-old woman suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder.

As Dr. Phil's recent interview with actress Shelley Duvall so vividly illustrated, there's a thin line between examining a person suffering from mental illness and exploiting her. For the most part, filmmaker Rebbie Ratner finds the proper balance in her documentary about a woman suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Nonetheless, Borderline often makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience, especially since its subject is not someone with whom it's very enjoyable to spend 90 minutes.

Barbara Kopple executive produced the film, which recently screened at DOC NYC. It centers on Regina, a 45-year-old lesbian New Yorker whose condition has made it impossible for her to maintain a relationship or keep a job. Borderline profiles her at a particularly stressful time in her life; she's recently broken up with a longtime girlfriend and is out of work, having been fired by her last employer because of her extreme emotional volatility.

The film alternates between tracking Regina — whose sharp, acid-tongued humor makes her a charismatic, if troubling presence — and exploring her condition, which affects some two percent of the U.S. population. Various psychiatrists and academics discuss the disorder in interviews filmed in stark black & white.

With brutal frankness, Regina discusses cutting herself and exploding in anger, often at random individuals. She now manages to keep her temper under control, but, as she puts it, the "urge to clock [someone] is still there." She's been in AA for 10 years, but we see her drinking a glass of wine — "I figure that 10 years of sobriety is enough for anyone," she explains.

Regina also is frustrated in love, desperately perusing online dating sites for a suitable match only to reject potential lovers because of their age. "I have core values," she says. "I really want to be with someone who's hot."

Although she has been in therapy for many years, Regina has a dim view of the profession. Among the reasons for her disdain, as she explains it, is that a female therapist she was once seeing became romantically involved with her mother. As Regina says during one session, "Every other therapist I've met in my life has been a freak of nature." Nonetheless, when she asks this same therapist to rate her BPD on a scale from one to 10, she's devastated when he unhesitatingly responds, "Eight-and-a-half."  

The filmmaker, who's been diagnosed with the condition herself, is sympathetic towards Regina even as she puts on display her emotional pain and vulnerability along with her abrasiveness. But Borderline — which makes its points through a variety of distracting stylistic techniques, including animation — ultimately feels unsatisfying. Despite its prevalence, Borderline Personality Disorder is a little-understood condition, and, by focusing so narrowly on Regina, this film doesn’t do enough to elucidate it.

Venue: DOC NYC
Director-screenwriter: Rebbie Ratner
Producers: Suzanne Mitchell, Rebbie Ratner
Executive producers: Barbara Kopple, Rebbie Ratner
Directors of photography: Beth Cloutier, Lucas Millard, Rebbie Ratner
Editors: Rob Burgos, Anita Gabrosek, Rebbie Ratner, Pascal Troemel, Sara Zandieh

Not rated, 88 minutes