‘Broken Diamonds’ Review: Illness as a Narrative Convenience

The drama “Broken Diamonds” begins with the death of a family patriarch and the reunion of distant siblings. Scott (Ben Platt) is a writer hoping to escape to a career in Paris, but when his father dies, he is forced into the role of caregiver for his older sister, Cindy (Lola Kirke). She began displaying symptoms of schizophrenia when she and Scott were teenagers, and as an adult, she resides at a care facility that intends to expel her for poor behavior. Cindy is released to live with Scott, but his impatience in his role makes it harder for her to maintain stability.

This film dramatizes the effect that mental illness has on families, but unfortunately its portrait of Cindy’s life with schizophrenia never transcends cliché. A challenge of crafting a story around illness, mental or otherwise, is that in life, flare-ups are neither moral nor entirely predictable. The director, Peter Sattler, emphasizes the uncontrollable nature of Cindy’s illness as a plot point, but the narrative convenience of her mental state is apparent in every gesture, every line of dialogue and every movement of the camera.

Cindy’s highs and lows correspond directly with Scott’s behavior, his character’s need for growth. When she experiences a crisis, the breakdown maps predictably into climactic story beats. The movie treats illness as a series of contrivances, an engine that keeps the plot pistoning forward, and the result of this approach is a film that feels lifeless, or worse, reductive. It mines drama from a disorder, and offers no insight, no beauty, no humor in return.

Broken Diamonds
Rated PG-13 for references to self-harm and language. Running time: 1 hour and 30 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on FandangoNow, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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