Mad Love (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Mad Love is a flawed movie that can't decide whether it wants to be a drama about mental illness, a tale of teen romance and rebellion, or a road picture. It's not that these three are necessarily mutually exclusive, but Mad Love's agenda makes them so. Because the movie is so concerned about not alienating its youthful target audience, it doesn't take risks. Everything has been watered down to maintain the PG-13 rating that will allow 15 and 16-year olds into theaters without their parents.

Why call it Mad Love? Well, the film is about madness and love, but, more importantly, the cheap, shallow image conjured by putting those two ideas together fits the picture. A name like this clues the viewer in not to expect a hard-edged, thought-provoking drama. There is some substance here, but it's largely overlooked. Directing for a different audience from a more mature script, Antonia Bird might have created a film of similar depth to her previous effort, Priest. As it is, all she ends up with is a near-miss that too often seems more like a music video than a dramatic feature. Do we really need all that grunge rock to get us in tune with the characters' emotional states? When utilized sparingly, music can be an effective tool. However, overused like this, it becomes intrusive.

The two main characters are lifted directly off the shelf where stock romantic leads are kept. Chris O'Donnell plays Matt, your typical clean-cut, ultra-responsible high school senior whose biggest challenge in life is getting a good score on the SATs. Casey (Drew Barrymore) is the new face in Seattle -- a tempestuous free spirit from Chicago who drives a neon yellow VW and does basically whatever she wants. It's only natural that such complete opposites should attract each other, and nothing can stop them from being together except, perhaps, Casey's apparent death wish.

After taking a few too many sleeping pills, Casey is placed in a psychiatric care hospital by her concerned parents (Joan Allen and Jude Ciccolella in thankless roles). Of course, these two are set up as the "bad guys", because adults never really understand the younger generation in this sort of movie. So Matt, acting the part of a modern-day "white knight", frees Casey from what she views as a prison, and together the pair heads for Mexico, pursued only by their personal demons.

After a few narrative hiccups resulting from a meandering script that never figures out what it really wants to be, Mad Love finally gets it right near the end, in a chilling sequence where we're afforded an opportunity to see the impact of Casey's imbalance. Bird directs this scene with style, but it's so close to the finale that the arrival of the credits, coming soon after, makes the viewer feel cheated.

Teenagers will probably appreciate the movie, if only for its appealing leads and relatively undemanding story. Chris O'Donnell looks like he does in Batman Forever, but acts more like his character from Circle of Friends. Barrymore radiates the wanton sexuality of the prototypical bad girl. There aren't many sparks between these two, but each is hot in their own right. Nevertheless, while such screen presence certainly helps, it can't completely obscure Mad Love's too-obvious inadequacies.

Mad Love (United States, 1995)

Director: Antonia Bird
Cast: Chris O'Donnell, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Dunn, Joan Allen, Jude Ciccolella
Screenplay: Paula Milne
Cinematography: Fred Tammes
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 1995-05-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1