Paolo Virzi’s Like Crazy sets the relationship between mental patients Beatrice (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti) against the backdrop of the rolling hills and crystalline waters of Tuscany. Residents of a picturesque mental institution tucked away in the Livorno countryside, the two women are polar opposites in nearly every way: Beatrice is nosy, boisterous, snobbishly aristocratic, and a self-aggrandizing liar, while Donatella is lower in class, sullen, withdrawn, and haunted by her past. But they forge an unlikely friendship largely through Beatrice’s sheer force of will. One day, while waiting for the van to take them to their day-release job at a nearby garden, the two spontaneously decide to seize their freedom, hopping on a bus and setting off on a Thelma & Louise-style adventure, stealing cars, getting laid, and dining and dashing, all while attempting to stay one step ahead of the aides who’re frantically searching for them.
Restless, at times even chaotic, Like Crazy often seems to be replicating the experience of having a manic episode. As it zips wildly from one zany incident to the next, it offers little respite from Beatrice’s motormouthed ramblings about everything from her past sexual encounters to the time she met Bill Clinton to the decline of Italian civilization. The result is frequently exhausting, an attempt to balance character portraiture with frantic farce that ends up succeeding at neither. Rather than allowing the comedy to arise naturally out of Beatrice and Donatella’s odd-couple dynamic, Virzi instead imposes a rigid crowd-pleasing structure onto the characters. Despite the well-modulated performances of the two leads, the film’s screenwriterly manipulations frequently render these women near-caricatures.
Like Crazy is a disappointing follow-up to Virzi’s prior Human Capital, which demonstrated the filmmaker’s ability to deliver a compelling narrative that balances genre demands with psychological insight, but it does at least share that film’s interest in placing its story within a broader social context. Taking a more sociological approach to mental illness than one typically finds in films on the subject, Virzi examines the ways in which mental disorders interact with class, gender, age, and the various circumstances of one’s life. Both Beatrice and Donatella struggle with bouts of depression, but due to their disparate social statuses, they’re treated very differently: After they’re finally caught, for example, Donatella is confined to a prison-like mental hospital while Beatrice is able to take cushy refuge in her lawyer’s villa.
The film’s sociological insights, though, are ultimately undermined by the contrived trajectory of Virzi’s screenplay, including a pat resolution that feels driven more by the desire to win our tears than by the ostensible social and psychological reality of Beatrice and Donatella’s lives. Virzi wants us to root for them, but he never seems to figure out who they really are.