By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
This film really won my heart because of the genuine attempt to realistically portray people with mental illnesses and those suffering from oppression due to these illnesses and other non-traditional behavior. Taking place during the 1960s, Maladies tells a fictional story of a small group of artists trying to exist in a world unsympathetic to their issues and needs. James (James Franco) no longer has his job as a soap opera actor. Depending on whom one asks, he was either fired or he quit. He suffers from delusions and hallucinations and struggles with activities of daily living. His sister Patricia has an illness of her own which has her behaving similarly to a child. The two siblings have a good friend who watches over them. Catherine (Catherine Keener) is a passionate painter and sculptor who, even though is the most functional of the trio, has some issues of her own.
Catherine is the glue that barely holds them together. She works regularly on her art and supports everyone, while James aspires to become a writer, randomly scribbling his thoughts on paper. Patricia pretty much lives in her own little world and actually displays no artistic talent, though she wishes to imitate her brother and Catherine. The film provides a candid portrait into their lives, their everyday conflicts and their inabilities to deal with their maladies.
Written and directed by internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker Carter, Maladies truly is a work of art. It provides a glimpse of ill and troubled artists, often lost and oblivious of the world around them. My only criticism has to do with an anachronistic moment in the film which I don’t feel fits quite right. It feels unnecessary, in my opinion and actually confused me somewhat in regards to the era of the story. Following the SXSW premiere screening of the film, I had the honor of attending a press conference held with some of the filmmakers, along with actresses Fallon Goodson and Catherine Keener in attendance.
Writer/director Carter noted that the inspiration came from his experiences as an artist and the narrative developed from these sources. The film doesn’t have a typical structure, but because of the superb acting by the cast, it feels organic and true to life.
James Franco once again proves why he is such a hot commodity in film today. His performance here is truly amazing and genuine. Catherine Keener also performs beautifully as the mother figure of the group who barely holds it all together in caring for her ill friends. Fallon Goodson offers a breakthrough performance as Patricia and proves she can hold her own with her more established and known co-stars. The film also features David Strathairn who portrays Delmar, a helpful neighbor and obsessed fan of James. In a short, but memorable appearance, Alan Cumming plays an ignorant and fearful bystander who insensitively chastises Catherine, James and Patricia in a restaurant.
This key appearance really stuck with me, because it is so perfect that he plays a character that represents persecution, considering that Cumming is gay and probably can draw from experience in his portrayal. I just had to ask about it at the press conference. To which Carter replied, “I actually met Alan Cumming at a party. Because Alan Cumming is gay, it is a special moment in the film.” Actress Catherine Keener added, “He really got into it!” Cumming actually had another lengthier scene in the movie, but for time constraints and pacing issues, it sadly was cut from the film.
The film, because of its realistic and candid take, gets a high score from me. It is the reason producer Jeff Most (The Crow) wanted in on this project. At the press conference Jeff shared that he actually has two children who suffer from mental illnesses. He claims to have never seen such an honest and less Hollywood depiction of these problems and issues. “It is about these people just living with their maladies and reacting. They have this drive to create art and be themselves. It’s just a wonderful and enlightening story and I was bowled over by it.” I have to whole-heartedly agree with Most on that assessment.
Fallon Goodson & Catherine Keener