Review: TOUCHED WITH FIRE, Earnest And Sincere About Bipolar Disorder
Earnest. Very, very earnest. And sincere; very, very sincere. And beyond that, what can one say about a film that deals so nakedly with a very serious illness -- point out it has pimples?
Touched With Fire, originally titled Mania Days when it debuted at SXSW last year, is an earnest and sincere character study of two people dealing with bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness. Paul Dalio wrote and directed the film, influenced by his own past struggles with the condition, which can cause radical shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels.
Carla (Katie Holmes) and Marco (Luke Kirby) meet cute in a support group at a hospital. They've both been confined at the psychiatric facility and are unhappy about it, though it seems that their respective parental units -- Carla's mother Sara (Christine Lahti) and Marco's father George (Griffin Dunne) -- are loving and supportive, while also hoping that the psychiatric profession can prescribe helpful medication to help their children lead less-strained lives.
Instead, Carla and Marco reject their medication and gravitate toward each other. It's said that they each spark the other's "manic" phase; unable to sleep, they meet in secret in the middle of the night and fixate on their various obsessions. They share a deep appreciation for Vincent Van Gogh's painting "The Starry Night," which holds particular meaning for Marco since Van Gogh, reportedly, also suffered from bipolar disorder.
A published poet, Carla now has difficulty writing, while Marco finds it very challenging to focus on any one subject at all; he's more apt to spin off on wild theories about aliens. It's apparent that both are suffering greatly, and their sincere desire to live their lives unencumbered by medication -- which, of course, has its own side effects, and requires a long stretch of time to get right for each person -- is certainly understandable.
Writer/director Dalio, who also edited the film and composed the musical score, clearly wants to portray the effects of bipolar disorder upon his characters as accurately as possible, and Holmes and Kirby appear to deliver exemplary performances in furtherance of that goal. Perhaps intentionally, though, the film itself is a bit of a mess.
Once Carla, Marco, and their respective parents are introduced, and the behavioral tendencies of Carla and Marco demonstrated ad infinitum, Touched With Fire becomes stuck in its own distinctive rhythms, a repetitious song that is wailed by singers with a similar pitch.
While it's certainly an affecting tale, featuring modestly becoming acting turns by the principal players, Touched With Fire fails to create any new or interesting narrative arcs, or at least much of anything that distinguishes it from other relationship dramas. Carla and Marco fall in love, and then pose a threat to each other because of their bipolar condition. That's the extent of the dramatic conflict; will they keep loving and hurting each other?
The movie may be quite helpful for those who are dealing with bipolar disorder, or for their friends and loved ones. Beyond that, it feels suffocating. But perhaps that's the intent, to show how challenging the disorder can be? If so, the film succeeds on all counts.
The film opens in select theaters in the U.S. on Friday, February 12.
Touched with Fire
- Paul Dalio
- Paul Dalio
- Katie Holmes
- Luke Kirby
- Christine Lahti
- Griffin Dunne