(This review comes to us from Nena Eskridge, a wonderful writer. The photo above is another shot of the Athens Lunatic Asylum. -MM)
All of the elements are there in A Crowded Room to make for a taut and tantalizing tale about the very important topic of dissociative identity disorder (DID/MPD). It's very difficult to write about mental illness without it coming off as poorly written melodrama. I think one of the reasons it's hard to write well-drawn "emotionally challenged" characters is because their struggle is an internal one while screenplays (films) are about external/visual experiences. It's not so much about good dialogue as it is about how that dialogue is delivered. And because so little is understood about MPD, it takes an amazingly talented director and actor, to create a realistic portrait of one.
A Crowded Room starts out beautifully with swirling, disorienting images -- very intense, very effective. And while the script hits the mark time and time again, giving a brief glimpse of what it might feel like seeing the world through the eyes of someone with MPD, I think the effectiveness of the many powerful scenes almost gets lost in the long blocks of expository dialogue and the smattering of cliched situations. But with a bit of editing - mostly cutting and pasting - shifting a few scenes around -- this screenplay could really shine.
We see a lot these days about MPD, mostly on TV cop dramas. So I was a bit disappointed when A Crowded Room turned into one with all of the interrogation scenes. Are they really necessary? Wouldn't it be more interesting to see Billy roaming free and unfettered, out and about in society -- rather than locked up safe and sound, no longer a threat to anyone? And having him change from one part to the next for the interviewers, on cue, isn't very realistic -- or as much fun. I'd rather meet them in real time. I'd like to see the mystery as it unfolds. Take Psycho for instance. Imagine opening that movie with a police interrogation where we meet Bates before we actually see him in action. The scene in which he is ranting in his mother's bedroom -- shot from a distance so we don't actually SEE him switch from one part to another -- we simply hear the different voices as he switches. Chilling. So much more so than the regimented switching from one to the other, on command -- within the confines and safety of a jail.
I'd like to see the script begin as is then continue without the interrogation scenes. Let us meet each of his parts out in the real world, not behind bars. Rather than his telling us he loses time it's fascinating to watch him freak out about it -- who is that guy banging on his door? Finding the hidden drugs, the empty wallet. Yikes. And rather than doing the rapes in flashback in the first act, let us experience them in the last, as written. Do you really need both? (BTW, these scenes are terrific -- horrifying without being exploitive).
The most important thing is that all of the necessary scenes are there. It just doesn't feel like they happen in the correct order. I really think one afternoon of cutting and pasting is all it would take to finish this "nearly there," extremely important piece of work. I have a sibling with MPD, so I thank you for writing it.
Back to James Cameron's A Crowded Room.