"Call Me Crazy": Exposing the Raw Reality of Living with Mental Illness
Crazy. We label people crazy all the time. It's one of those adjectives that get attributed as easily as retard, faggot, and other disturbing names that should be stricken from our society’s collective vocabulary. There is a negative and embarrassing connotation to the word, and it is a label no one basks in. It is also the title of Lifetime & Sony Picture Television’s Call Me Crazy: a Five Film anthology from Executive Producer Jennifer Aniston, which, through five shorts ultimately raises a new understanding of what happens when a loved one struggles with mental illness.
Personally the film hit home, as it unflinchingly shines a raw light on mental illness. Living in New York City on a daily basis there are scores of homeless and mentally ill people sleeping in cardboard makeshift tents or talking to themselves when pacing through the streets. While they could be construed as irresponsible vagrants, perhaps they are struggling with undiagnosed mental illness- or like characters in the film, refusing to take their meds. And even if they are mentally ill there's this perception that it is something anyone can get over if they simply will it-- a perception which would not hold weight against a physical disease like cancer. And it is these prejudices and stereotypes which are flawlessly interwoven throughout the film, and brought to the forefront in Director Laura Dern’s short. "Grace" explores bipolar disorder through the experience of a teenage daughter (Sarah Hyland, "Modern Family") whose mother (Melissa Leo, "The Fighter") grapples with the condition.
When asked if Dern, a child raised by single mom and actress Diane Ladd, drew on her personal mother-daughter experiences from her childhood to prepare for this film she said, “I empathize with that feeling of being an only child being raised by a single mom. We went through all of that together; the ups and downs of divorce, getting and losing jobs, falling in and out of love, and as a child you are the person there witnessing it all."
Dern admits as children, we need our parents to be sane and safe. And so like the character Grace, kids justify their parents' behaviors all the time; that their mental illness is normal- because kids never want to think their parent is crazy.
In this short film, Dern said she tried to really be true and honor with empathy what it is like for a child to live with a parent who has bipolar disorder.
“The challenge of being a child, is that we didn't create our parent’s story, and if they are mentally ill it is not our responsibility to cure our parent,” notes Dern. “I hope children like Grace can come away from this feeling; like, they can still love their mentally ill parent and be proud of the fact that they face their battles every day, even though they may never win the war.”
When it comes to demystifying prejudices about mental illness, Dern hopes her film will help to do that as well.
“Through working on this film I found that bi-polar disorder is a very illusive disorder and far more common. There is a stigma like no other- particularly women being called difficult, reactive and crazy and that can make them shut down and not ask for help. I know people who are comfortable saying I’m an alcoholic but very few people comfortable saying I have mental illness. My prayer is that people will start to recognize this illness in a new way and that this film brings a voice to mental illness.”
Call Me Crazy: A Five Film World Premiere Event Saturday, April 20 at 8.7c
Watch a "sneak peek" of "Grace"