‘RUNNING FROM CRAZY’ ★★★
Cabin Creek Films presents a documentary directed by Barbara Kopple. Running time: 100 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at AMC River East 21.
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM
Maybe you think your family is messed up, but you’ve got nothing on Mariel Hemingway, who lives with a legacy of suicide, mental illness and even, in one particularly dispiriting example, sexual abuse. The title of the documentary “Running From Crazy” refers to what she feels she has been doing all her life — running from the family weaknesses, trying to be healthy and trying to help people suffering from suicidal depression.
“Running From Crazy” is from director Barbara Kopple, the master documentarian who gave us “Harlan County USA,” “American Dream” and “Shut Up and Sing,” among other films. This latest effort is not in the same league, neither in quality nor in ambition, but it’s good nonetheless, an artfully arranged account of Hemingway’s current life, mixed with footage shot by her late sister Margaux for a 1983 documentary about the family.
Kopple is too much of an artist not to know that “Running From Crazy” has two stars, not one, and so Margaux is an ongoing presence: mercurial, vulnerable, lowdown and fairly adorable. Her volatile personality is contrasted with that of Mariel, who is smart, realistic and not at all self-destructive. But a cloud hangs over Mariel all the same, the same cloud that hangs over the documentary — Margaux’s 1996 suicide at the age of 41.
“Running From Crazy” doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy. It’s just the story of someone you probably thought you knew, but didn’t quite — a person trying to make something good out of a whole lot of bad and succeeding, at least so far as we can tell. Along the way, it’s also the story of Margaux, who wasn’t that lucky, as well as that of an older sister, Muffet, who has had her own troubles with mental illness.
The film is also, in its own way, a meditation on the power of family, an unfortunate power in many cases. The world can love you, but if your mother didn’t, you have a lifelong problem that needs attending. You can have all the money you could ever want, but if your father sneaked into your room and sexually abused you, you can’t sweep that under the rug. You have to figure out a way to deal with it.
Indeed, the differences between Margaux and Mariel, though to a large degree innate, may also have been a difference of upbringing. Margaux had it worse, because she slept alone as a child, while Mariel slept with her mother — as in her father couldn’t get at her. In any case, there are mysteries that can’t be answered, but they’re the issues that “Running From Crazy” invites you to think about.
Scripps Howard News Service