By Lady Beverly Cohn
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder and one of the top 15 leading causes of disability worldwide. An estimated 4.9% of those afflicted commit suicide, a far greater rate than that of the general population. It is characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, and emotions, manifesting in erratic behavior. ‘Broken Diamonds’ is a tender family film focusing on the relationship between two siblings, one of whom is impaired.
Based on the very personal screenplay by Steve Waverly, Peter Sattler superbly directs the film with a gentle hand. The story begins with the ‘Dear Evan Hanson’ star, Tony and Grammy award-winner Ben Platt, who delivers a brilliant, nuanced performance of his character of Scott Weaver. On his way to sell his car, he is practicing French in preparation for his upcoming trip to Paris, where he has decided to write a book.
But, the road to the City of Lights is paved with challenging obstacles, beginning with the sale of his car falling through. Scott, pretty much a loner, is undaunted in his determination to fulfill his dream but a phone call from his father’s wife Cookie, well played by Yvette Nicole Brown, puts another prick in his balloon as she tells him his father has died.
Saying his last goodbye, Scott folds his dad’s two hands together and gives them a slight pat. Director of Photography Bryce Fortner’s camera lingers on that moment showing the emotional impact of that gesture without one single word. We next meet his schizophrenic sister Cindy, sensitively played by Lola Kirke. Her dizzying emotional transitions are both subtle and believable. She has been living at the Crosswinds Mental Facility where she has frequent clashes with her neighbor. Her latest altercation is the last straw and she is no longer welcome to live there.
The administrator tells Scott she has made arrangements with a new facility to take in his sister in two weeks, which is when he’s leaving for Paris. Because the family has always been fixated on his sister’s problem, Scott has been walking in her shadow his entire life and got used to being invisible to his parents. Despite that, he has been a devoted sibling and agrees to take her into his apartment for the next two weeks. Cindy refuses to sleep on his couch and is about to walk out the door. Her brother reasons with her and gives her his bed.
There is a pivotal moment when Cindy opens her medicine bottle, pours the pills into her hand, but decides to not take the psychotropic drug. Thus, begins even more wild unpredictable behavior, with Scott at her side trying to save her from herself. With his trip closing in, he finally receives his passport but, again, is faced with yet another obstacle as his sister inadvertently starts a fire in his apartment and the passport is destroyed. She has a new idea and that is to get a job, which her therapist agrees might be a good move. Her shrink explains to Scott that while the drugs lower the voices in her head, she still hears them. He gets her a job as a “bus boy” at his old coffee shop but as you can imagine that employment is short lived.
As the effects of not taking her meds becomes more profound, at one point she does not recognize her brother, sounds are amplified in her head, and she thinks people are following her. The tension builds as she disappears. Desperate, Scott goes to the police and gives them a full description of his missing sister, including the fact that she is off of her meds. In desperation, he calls his mother, who has dementia, for advice. She tells him he must go to Paris.
If this were a soap opera, which it clearly is not, here are some questions: Does Scott get on that plane to Paris? Will he write his book? Does Cindy go back on her meds? And, as a sidebar, what is the meaning of the film’s title?
Director Sattler did an outstanding job in eliciting two credible performances from Platt and Kirke, as well as the supporting cast. He did not over-exaggerate Cindy’s schizophrenic characteristics as this is a role that could have easily slid into caricature. He guided the actress in embodying the elements of that mental illness resulting in a sustained performance in which she captured the subtleties and nuances of her character.
While Platt’s character is less extreme or “showy,” he too delivers an actualized characterization of a young man torn between living his own dream contrasted with his sometimes-reluctant devotion to his afflicted sister. The narrative throughout the film is enhanced by Keegan DeWitt and Dabney Morris’ eclectic beautiful musical score with Robert Hoffman’s excellent editing pinpointing the action.
Please don’t let the subject matter stop you from seeing this well-made film. It’s a tribute to the determination of one sibling to help his impaired sister attain some semblance of normalcy. If this were a soap opera, which it clearly is not, I could end this review with: Does Scott get on that plane to Paris? Does he write his book? Does Cindy go back on her meds? And, as a sidebar, what is the meaning of the film’s title?
Release Date: Current
Where: In Select Theatres, VOD
Running Time: 90 Minutes