Mad to Be Normal

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Robert Mullan

Starring

David Tennant Elizabeth Moss Michael Gambon

Anticipation.

The story of this arcane figure might be one movie biopic worth making…

Enjoyment.

One of Tennant’s finest screen performances let down by a lack substance elsewhere.

In Retrospect.

Not without its moments, but mostly lives up to that horrible title.

David Tennant is perfectly cast as Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing in a film that’s as undisciplined as its subject.

Shambolic would be the kind assessment of this loose-leaf biography of the bohemian Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing, who for five years at the end of the 1960s ran an experimental facility in London’s East End which aimed to treat patients without recourse to any traditional medical means. He gloats about how his method skips over such staples as tranquillisers and electro shock therapy in favour of old fashioned TLC. And the odd droplet of LSD.

On the plus side, the film is gifted with a smart and appealing central performance from David Tennant, who trades in a very nice line of ticks, stammers and hesitations as he intones Laing’s crackpot theories.

The film’s best moments are when it choses to demonstrate the arduous process of psychiatric care, such as a centrepiece where the rock star doc waltzes into an American institution that’s styled like a ’50s horror film and enters into a hushed discourse with an apparently catatonic patient. The camera barely moves, holding onto a simple two-shot within a cramped cell and allowing the actors to do their thing.

Otherwise, Robert Mullan’s film is something of a lost cause, to the point where it’s hard to see how it ever got the green light in the first place. It flits arbitrarily between incidental moments. There’s an almost complete absence of narrative progression, or anything that helps you to understand why this needed to be a feature film and not, say, a radio play or a magazine longread.

It’s like a lengthy shopping list of notable moments that have been totted up and, at random intervals, tossed at the screen with nary a care for how they might gel with one another. To the point where the film finally fades to black at what feels like the middle of a key scene.

Published 2 Apr 2017

Tags: Biopic David Tennant

Anticipation.

The story of this arcane figure might be one movie biopic worth making…

Enjoyment.

One of Tennant’s finest screen performances let down by a lack substance elsewhere.

In Retrospect.

Not without its moments, but mostly lives up to that horrible title.

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