Broken Diamonds, 2021.
Directed by Peter Sattler.
Starring Ben Platt, Lola Kirke, Debs Howard, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alphonso McAuley, Andy Thompson, Chad Willett, and Lynda Boyd.
In the wake of his father’s death, a twenty-something writer sees his dream of moving to Paris put in jeopardy when he’s forced to temporarily take in his wildly unpredictable, mentally ill sister.
The official plot synopsis for Broken Diamonds is enough for anyone to become skeptical, especially considering schizophrenia is sensitive and tricky to handle on-screen. In the case of Peter Sattler’s direction and the script from TV writer Steve Waverly, what’s here is an unapologetic movie-style depiction of the disorder allowing Lola Kirke several moments as Cindy to chew the scenery and basically act crazy because it’s what the story demands. Rarely does it feel like the story or characters want to understand or explore schizophrenia in any meaningful way. In other words, this is a well-acted exploitative melodrama that rings hollow.
The story also centers on her aspiring novelist brother Scott (Ben Platt). He is preparing to move to France and work on a project, effectively leaving this family behind that we come to learn has a history of mental illness and suffering. As a result, Scott bears resentment towards his sister Cindy (while she was a teenager running off and doing whatever she wanted, Scott’s mother was smacking him for forgetting to take out the trash) for taking up most of the attention and support. His academic accomplishments seem to have gone unnoticed by his parents, and he initially gave up trying to make something of his life because of the family drama.
After a third infraction at a residential treatment center, Scott’s plans are forced into temporary limbo. Until Cindy can be transferred to another location (they are told it will take two weeks), she will have to live with him. The rest of the family is not an option; dad has just passed away (an occurrence they to try to reconnect over), mom has dementia, and she’s not allowed to stay with her boyfriend. Various shenanigans ensue, ranging from Cindy almost burning the apartment down to failing at getting a job, with all of it hokey and most likely offensive towards actual schizophrenics.
However, by far, the most frustrating aspect with Broken Diamonds easily comes from how unlikable Scott is as a person. He’s not painted as someone struggling to live in the shadow of his sister’s illness or a caring family member that’s serving as a support pillar for her betterment. If anything, his resentment is toxic and childish at times, doing no one in the family any favors. Even the inaudible flashbacks spliced between scenes do little to generate empathy for his plight. Characters don’t need to be likable for a movie to be good, but the issue here is that, for a story about repairing broken bonds and healing, the two lead characters are mis-executed for completely different reasons. I’m sure the filmmakers want us to hope Scott is successful getting his writing career off the ground, but that doesn’t work considering he is constantly treating his sister beyond a burden, usually downright verbally cruel.
For most of Broken Diamonds, it’s spent hoping a schizophrenic caricature (who stops taking her meds throughout the movie because, of course) gets away from her selfish brother and can get real therapy and help once more. Lola Kirke and Ben Platt are talented actors, but there’s only so much of a doomed and offputting script to be salvaged.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com