Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, a twenty-something writer sees his dream of moving to Paris put in jeopardy when he’s forced to temporarily take in his wildly unpredictable, mentally ill sister.
Stars: Ben Platt, Lola Kirke, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alphonso McAuley
Director: Peter Sattler
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I have a fear of Ben Platt. It’s undiagnosed, but I think it’s medically sound. I’m fairly sure it began around the time he sang Leonard Bernstein’s ” Somewhere ” live at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018 (the vibrato haunts my dreams) and it’s only grown since then. I’ve tried exposure therapy by binging both seasons of The Politician on Netflix and I saw my pulse decrease significantly between season 1 and season 2 so I know I’m making progress. I suffered a minor setback with the recent debut of the Dear Evan Hansen trailer and am already mentally preparing for the September 24th release date, but I put my head between my knees after I saw his hair and with some deep breathing I was able to work through the anxiety.
I truly thought Broken Diamonds was going to be another training exercise for myself, a trial to see how far I could be pushed to my breaking point where Platt was concerned. After all, aside from his appearances in Pitch Perfect and its sequel, Platt hasn’t had much time to appear in many films. Roles in 2015’s Ricki and the Flash and 2016’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk were forgettable but led to a more pivotal one in the 2019 drama Run This Town that didn’t even break a sweat in the US. In all honesty, not a whole lot is riding on Broken Diamonds. Apart from it looking an awful lot like 2014’s The Skeleton Twins, it appears to have been filmed in the middle of 2018 and is being distributed by a small indie company that usually reissues old TV movies on Amazon. So even if it were a disaster for Platt, it would be easy to shove this one under the rug pretty fast.
The thing is, Platt’s performance in Broken Diamonds is maybe the best thing I’ve seen him do. It’s his least mannered, least controlled, and least curated to death role to date. That this is the film of his that likely not a lot of people will see is a shame because the actor is doing something special within the framework of 90ish minutes and more attention should be paid. Working alongside the equally impressive Lola Kirke (Gone Girl), the two form a dynamic duo for a family drama focusing on two siblings aiming to find balance in their lives which are dramatically out of synch. She’s a diagnosed schizophrenic kicked out of her mental health facility just as her brother has packed up his apartment and is moving to Paris, following his dream to become a writer. All this happens the same weekend their father unexpectedly passes away.
Offering little complications along the way, Steve Waverly’s script is all about getting these two in the same room and talking it out as much as possible. Sure, Platt’s character, Scott does his fair share of griping about his sister Cindy to her therapist (Catherine Lough Haggquist, Fifty Shades Freed, powerful in just a few short scenes), to their stepmother Cookie (Yvette Nicole Brown, Lady & the Tramp), and their estranged mother (Lynda Boyd, The Age of Adaline) who stays away mostly because she suffers from her own degenerative mental condition. Without many friends of his own and with Cindy burning all of her former bridges, the siblings have no one left but each other, so the movie is comprised largely of face-to-face conversations about rough childhoods growing up in the shadow of mental illness.
Before you go too bug-eyed and think this is all gloom and doom depressing, let me assure you that director Peter Sattler manages to keep the film from leaning toward being singularly focused on the darker side of things. There’s plenty of small bits of humor that break up the mood from being too severe, comedy that doesn’t feel out of place or disingenuous to the more serious subjects being taken up. Yet the film does have to get to a dramatic peak and in the end, it winds up not shying away from the black edges that mental illness can take people to. This is where Kirke has a chance to shine as well. We’ve already seen her do good work over multiple seasons in Amazon’s dearly departed Mozart in the Jungle but there’s some deep digging going on in Broken Diamonds that’s to be admired.
The fear of Ben Platt still remains, I think it will always be there. I find, however, that Broken Diamonds was a good tool for me to use when I have those Grammy nightmares or think of his Instagram videos where he’s wearing overalls for the sixth or seventh day in a row. It’s in these moments of chilling cold sweats that I’ll remember he can turn it out when he wants to and pull back for the right film and message.