Movie Review: ‘ELIZABETH BLUE’ – aesthetically pleasing, narratively disconnected

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

ELIZABETH BLUE

Rated PG-13, 94 minutes.
Director: Vincent Sabella
Cast: Anna SchaferRyan VincentAdewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeKathleen Quinlan and Christopher Ashman

While we, as a society, learn more about personality and the differences between us all, one of the most misunderstood aspects of being human is our psychology. As stigmas surrounding homosexuality and race are subject to punishment, there is still the uncertainty of mental and emotional disorder. Different things make it uncomfortable to address at times, and the education of these very real human issues get lost in the narrative shuffle.

First-time director Vincent Sabella sought to make a film that could better depict what it’s like to live with mental illness, mostly by using experiences in dealing with his own mental illness. His creation is known as ELIZABETH BLUE, whose titular character has been released from a mental hospital and into her fiancee’s custody, as they figure out how to balance her illness with the normal facets of being a couple.

As we are introduced to Elizabeth (Anna Schafer), there is an established tension between her and her mother (Kathleen Quinlan). She belittles her about her illnesses, while Elizabeth informs her of her decision to live with, and marry, Grant (Ryan Vincent). Through her relationships these people, as well as her therapist Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the groundwork is laid surrounding her battle with schizophrenia, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The problem, however, lies within the execution. While Schafer’s Elizabeth has depth and understanding, the surrounding parts don’t mesh well at all. There is great care in exhibiting what Elizabeth is going through, whether it’s non-diegetic sound (such as Vivaldi or a roaring train) or extreme close-ups of her ticks. It’s clear that Sabella knows the central elements personally as they reflect Elizabeth. The cinematography also has a nice look to it, especially the scenes between her and Dr. Bowman.

The other characters are either too cliché or act as a reaction to Elizabeth’s troubles. Grant is all over the place, so much so he’s almost unlikable. For example, when Elizabeth has her first full-blown schizophrenic episode, Grant yells at her to relax until he can’t handle it and slaps her; he “just didn’t know what to do.” He comes off as ignorant for someone who chooses to spend the rest of his life with this woman. Also, the dialogue can be cheesy at times, which is a detriment when the movie has many slow moments.

ELIZABETH BLUE is a good visual start for Sabella’s beginning as a director, and a great showcase for Anna Schafer as an actress. However, it can’t overcome its flaws with the surrounding relationships and shaky dialogue, losing any real education in the social struggles of mental illness.

Grade: C-

ELIZABETH BLUE is now playing in select markets.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.