By: Jeff Graham
During my undergraduate years, I participated in a screenwriting workshop with ten other students. Like any creative writing workshop, each of us would bring in pages, have them reviewed by our peers, and discuss possible notes and suggestions to improve the work. One of my classmates – we’ll call her Katie – brought in a dense and sobering portrayal of an intercity youth from Detroit who’s entire family is shot and killed on the same day she is freakishly involved in a car accident that leaves her paralyzed. At the hospital, she is given the wrong IV drip and undergoes a severe allergic reaction that requires her to be fed through a tube for the rest of her life.
Our class suggested that such a harrowing sequence of seemingly unredeemable events was going to present narrative challenges, that something so unrelentingly dark didn’t feel true to life. Katie quickly defended the work: “But no! This really happened. This story is based on one of my best friends!” And of course, our professor acknowledged that sometimes life is actually too strange to retell verbatim. Fictionalization of autobiography is challenging, because, all too often, writers get in their own way. I fear this is the case with Elizabeth Blue.
The film follows Elizabeth – portrayed beautifully by Anna Schafer – struggling to cope with her increasingly challenging Schizophrenia, and is directly inspired by writer-director Vincent Sabella’s experience with the disease. Sabella smartly recreates the experience of the disease through cinematic ingenuity. The use of light, sound, and editing interestingly presents a Schizophrenic world for audiences who may or may not have experiences related to the disease. I imagine this film will resonate with many who have personally struggled with the disease, and serve as an educational journey for those who haven’t.
All that being said – despite excellent performances, thoughtful direction, and an earnest dedication to sensitively addressing the challenges of Schizophrenia – the film struggles on a narrative level. Elizabeth Blue soars from a tonal perspective, but sinks from a story perspective. Though Elizabeth Blue wasn’t for me, I look forward to Sabella’s next film, as I see exciting potential, especially noting that this is his debut.
(5 Stars/Out of 10)