Deadpan and natural comedic situations infused with pathos is difficult to successfully pull off. Writer-director James L. Brooks proved himself to be quite the master at that style of filmmaking. After his massive success with 1983’s “Terms of Endearment,” many Hollywood dramedies tried to reach for that golden ring that Brooks made look so effortless on screen. Most failed or could never find the right balance of drama, tears, and laughter.
There is a trend with today’s Independent Film scene where too many filmmakers think their work can get by showing the “quirkiness” of someone’s life as they navigate their personal issues through mellow music, misplaced awkwardness, and bland shot design.
It is a trend that hurts many films these days, as almost every indie relationship or life-change “dramedy” looks and sounds the same. Characters bumble around with impassive expressions reacting to subtly comedic situations with a stuttered-speech indifference. Characters from these films blend from one film to another until each new viewing of the latest independent release feels like we have been there before.
Written by Steve Waverly and directed by Peter Sattler (“Camp X-Ray”), “Broken Diamonds” falls into the same trap, but the performance from Lola Kirke is so well played that it is a reason to recommend the film.
This is another in the long line of modern character pieces where one must balance their life while the world falls around them.
Ben Platt as Scott is an aspiring writer who decides to get serious about his goals and is planning a move to Paris to achieve is dreams and write a novel.
After he receives a phone call that his father has died, the aftershocks begin to upend Scott’s stable existence.
His planned move gets screwed up, as he finds himself having to care for his unstable sister Cindy (Kirke) after she is kicked out of the care facility after a rule breaking “third strike.”
Scott leaves in a week. It will take two weeks to place his sister in another facility.
Ben Platt’s affable performance is easy to follow but the screenplay crafts him in too obvious a manner for Scott to be distinct from other characters of his kind in films of this kind. The life journey Scott is going through and the choices he must make are too important to design him in such a bland and obvious manner.
Lola Kirke has more to work with in Cindy. Schizophrenic personalities are tough to properly portray. One wrong note or any moment of overacting could demean the realities of the condition and become offensive to those dealing with it.
Kirke inhabits Cindy with ease and her moments where the character must deal with her condition while trying to fight it are natural and believable.
Being free from the facility, Cindy wants to get a grip on her life and unwisely tries to do so on her own terms, ergo she stops taking her medication.
For Cindy, there is no interest in what happens to her father’s house or to the woman who became her stepmother (Yvette Nicole Brown, a big talent who is unfortunately wasted here). She thinks (hopes) that her freedom will give her life a balance. As we learn, none of this will have positive results and, off her medication, Cindy’s world (both real and imagined) begins a dangerously rapid decline.
As her hallucinations become worse, the moments of desperation between Scott and Cindy are effective due to Kirke’s great work, as she overcomes the cliched dramatic beats of the script.
There is not a moment where Kirke lets you catch her acting. It is a wise and committed performance from an actress with talent.
Predictability runs throughout this film, side characters are given hard-to-fathom dialogue, Scott’s big moment (where he has a bit of a breakdown in a police station) rings false, and the film is set to the kind of indie music where the singers whisper the lyrics while strumming a quiet guitar.
The songs add nothing to the film’s ambiance and the direction is comprised of tired handheld camerawork that uses natural light. Because, you know, this is life as it happens.
There are not enough realistic moments in “Broken Diamonds” and a post-credits coda (where real people speak about their experiences with family members who have schizophrenia) comes too late, serving as reminder of how potent Sattler’s film could have been.
The film may resonate for some and might lose many others, but the nomination-worthy performance by Lola Kirke will stay with you.