I think there is a bit of an issue surrounding many films that deal with issues like drug use and mental illness. Not from a triggering or terrible portrayal perspective, although there is certainly a very valid argument for that. For me, it sits more from a storytelling point of view. Most of these modern films suffer significantly from issues of repetition.
I’d argue there is a lot of the same repeated steps in these films. We get the formula of Man gets condition. He gets better, worsens, a relationship becomes strained. They repeat these same beats about 3 or 4 times in these films until the credits roll. I end up going to these kinds of movies, praying for a change. Lost Transmissions had the chance to be a bit different, but it falls directly into these pitfalls, and there is no need for it.
The film follows a paranoid-schizophrenic music producer, played by Simon Pegg, that claims he can hear the radio waves of the world. He goes through phases of stopping taking his medication. Which of course, the filmmakers believe gives him super art abilities. Coming off the meds has the downside of worsening his condition though and endangering himself in the process. The task of helping him falls on a friend and aspiring music writer, Hannah, played by Juno Temple, who wants to help and suffers from her mental issues herself.
The film from there goes directly into the expected. It does try to look at the effect but becomes a showcase for toxic ways to deal with a friend with this kind of issue. The worst of all of them being the way they end the film. Something so frustratingly disgusting that it needs to be seen to be believed.
There are a couple of things it tries to do to break from the said formula, but it just becomes a bit more eye-roll inducing. These include a subplot involving Hannah, supposed to be the rock to Pegg’s character stopping taking her medication. This is never resolved and ignored after it happens. It just left as her behaviour becomes slightly more erratic at most. The affect it has on their friends, set-up but ignored. You get the idea.
The film feels like it is treading water and wants to get the most out Pegg’s time. It does that and with significant effect because, on a more positive note, the film does feature an excellent performance from Simon Pegg. No disrespect to him at all but he is not someone I expected to see in a more dramatic, indie-film fest vibe film but, he is really in his element here. He is indeed the stand-out and very believable and layered. He doesn’t just play it as “crazy” which is a refreshing view for mental health in film. There is thankfully a lot more to it, and you can see he did some research into it.
The film also has a bit of a downplayed performance from Juno Temple who is let down by the poor character choices in the script more than anything else. There is also what can only be described as an extended cameo from Alexandra Daddario who shows up to play this counterpoint to “real” mental health issues. Her character is interesting as this blue hair popstar who uses mental health as a quirky personality trait. This suffers from a bit of the overstuffed ideas that the film tried to set up, a bit like Hannah coming off her meds. Instead of using Peggs character as a catalyst it doubles down on him and goes in for that damn formula again.
In the introduction beforehand, the filmmaker said that it was a very personal story to her. The film even has a card at the beginning to say it is inspired by a true story. Making it all the harder to complain about but the story just does not work for a film. It is also especially worrying, knowing that some of the more questionable decisions may have happened in real life. The film is narratively and emotionally frustrating. You fail to connect with them genuinely. I wish I had something more positive to say.
Glasgow Film Festival is running from the 26th February – 7th March. Lost Transmission does not have a UK release date at the time of publishing.