“Lacks plot structure and the performances can vary”
Alex Heller’s The Year Between is an edgy dark comedy that follows 20-something Clemence’s (Heller) life as she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Heller, who directs, writes, and stars in the movie, reflects on her personal experience. But the many circumstances in the movie make it difficult for the protagonist to be likeable, even though there is an undeniable sense of authenticity. The structure and plot raise a lot of questions about whether mental health can be used in dark comedies, especially if the character is written as someone who is a jerk to the people around them. It’s not to say that The Year Between doesn’t have its funny moments; but the movie sometimes ranges from wacky to cringeworthy, and even nauseating, which may make viewers uncomfortable.
In the opening sequence, Clemence walks through a group of people playing Quidditch at the college campus, then bursts into her room and berates her roommate for taking her Chapstick without permission. A few minutes later, her mom Sherri (J. Smith Cameron) yanks her back home to a makeshift bed in the basement, since her childhood home has been taken over by her dad Don (Steve Buscemi). Her younger siblings Carlin (Emily Robinson) and Neil (Wyatt Oleff) are adjusting to Clemence’s arrival into their once peaceful home, and they have simply had enough. As the family supports Clemence through her medical diagnosis and her job application, she tries to get better but the several medications she takes make it difficult for her to live a balanced life.
Comedy and humour, which can be used as a coping mechanism for writers, are not meant to validate characters that are mean to others without any good reason. Clemence’s character can be intolerable, and the humour doesn’t seem to hit when she makes snide remarks. She appears to lash out at everyone around her without understanding the consequences of her actions, especially at her family who are trying to be there for her through her bipolar disorder. Furthermore, the movie uses a lazy way of contextualising her diagnosis as it’s less interested in the medical condition and more on the comedic moments. In this case, The Year Between pokes fun at characters supporting Clemence, such as Sherri. At one point, Clemence tries to commit suicide by swallowing some pills and proceeds to yell at her mom, who has not only gone with Clemence to every medical appointment but is also cancer-ridden. If the intention was to evoke outrage at the comedic moments, then there isn’t anything fun about this kind of humour.
In addition to the poor execution of comedy, The Year Between lacks plot structure and the performances can vary. In the first act, Clemence’s diagnosis and mood stabiliser routine are introduced — but are then quickly resolved with no other issues after that. There’s a lot more of the movie to happen, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of conflict or resolution to keep the movie interesting. Other than Clemence’s attempt to commit suicide, no one is in danger. As far as performances go, Heller’s performance seems to be a mixed bag. Cameron and Buscemi, however, are a great duo together and they are never underused.
Some of the movie’s ideas are humorous, but they are not well-crafted and cohesive in accurately portraying someone with mental illness. It’s why The Year Between fails in making a statement on comedy and mental illness: it’s simply too all over the place.