Skip to main content

The Mental State is a compelling, earnest, but ultimately flawed drama that has a lot to say. Tackling the issues of school shootings is enough for several films. But writer-director James Camali with a writing assist from Jeremy Anderson and Joshua Barclay also uses the film to cover themes of mental illness, bullying, and even opioid abuse in poor communities. The outcome is an engrossing drama that feels more like several films rolled into one, supported by exceptional performances and competent production.

The film opens with Andy (Jance Enslin) and his mother Angela (Carly Pope) at Sunday Church.  A recovering alcoholic, Dana has made Christ her crutch. In an attempt to get Andy more involved in church activities, his mother convinces Pastor Shane (Jim True-Frost) to ask Andy to help with an upcoming church get-together. There Andy gets the chance to interact with schoolmate Bethany (Alison Thornton) and becomes smitten. Then the unthinkable happens when a lone shooter takes a shot at a group of children that Andy is pulling along for a hayride. Thinking fast, Andy gets the kids and Bethany to safety and is lauded as a hero.

The other kids at school begin to interact more with Andy, pulling him away from his obsession with graphic novels. Andy begins considering college, his mom is smiling again, and life becomes good. That’s until the police, including Andy’s aunt Dana (Alyssa Sutherland) begin to circle back on the shooting incident with questions. To add to the collection of plots, Andy begins to uncover a drug ring in school while at the same time hoping to protect Bethany from her dangerous boyfriend. That’s when the film takes a hard left turn adding yet another storyline and sending the film into another direction. And I haven’t even mentioned the stranger by the name of Dylan (Bryan Greenberg) that Andy has befriended.

There is a lot of good here that saves a scattered narrative. First and foremost is Enslin who portrays Andy with everything he’s got. There are some particularly touching nuances that Enslinpulls off with his moments of socially awkward beats that are so cringe and so genuine. Then there is Pope as Andy’s mom Angela. What seemed to start as a caricature in the opening scene develops into a rather sobering portrayal of a mom at wit’s end. Sutherland as Aunt Dana is also a fine performance to watch as she exudes authority and vulnerability at once.

Camali has directed what amounts to a polished drama that loses its direction in a quagmire of causes. The broken health system, the opioid crisis, guns in schools, and bullying are fighting for attention here. These are all interrelated, but it seems that the script can’t decide on where to fix its gaze. Pity as The Mental State treats all of these subjects with the compassion and respect they deserve.

The Mental State is worth a look for what it gets right even though it has a bit much to say.

The Mental State – 6 out of 10