It’s the classic love story: girl commits self, girl meets boy, boy and girl spiral each other into massive manic episodes. You know, the usual.
Carla (Katie Holmes) is a published poet, who, at times, has to furiously scribble down the words in her head just to get them to stop. Marco (Luke Kirby) is also a poet, who doesn’t think it’s necessary to conform to society’s rules about living “on the grid.” Both are going through intense manic episodes – a symptom of their bipolar disorder. Ending up in the same hospital group therapy session, they connect and sneak out of their rooms at night to meet up. To them, these are the most freeing and exciting moments of their lives. To their parents and doctors, it is an unhealthy relationship that causes mania to spiral out of control. Separated, they find each other outside of the hospital months later and renew their relationship, despite the disapproval from medical professionals and family.
Paul Dalio’s Touched with Fire does what should be on the top of every filmmaker’s to-do list: it tells a story well. It’s a good example of succeeding in one’s craft. The pacing and structure compliment each other, the dialogue is interesting enough without being perfumey or overwritten, and the camera shows the story with both beautiful and purposeful imagery. All in all, Touched with Fire is a textbook example of how to make a film.
The story is believable, but the message – if there is one – gets lost somewhere. Dalio seems to lay down a list of pros and cons about manic episodes. The characters are at their happiest and most creative while suffering from mania, but also dangerous to themselves and others. When they’re down (the non-mania – they aren’t portrayed in a depressive episode), there’s a spark missing, and everything about the film is less illuminated. Ultimately, the thesis of the film is about managing mania, but it’s not made without compelling counterpoints.
Luke Kirby is particularly watchable. He’s got an on-screen magnetism that isn’t too overpowering, but intriguing enough that it’s always welcome. Katie Holmes is also impressively deep with her performance – though it might have hit a little too close to home when her doctor asks her, “you want to raise a child with a psychotic, manic parent?”.
Touched with Fire is lukewarm. It’s not an exceptional film, but it also doesn’t leave audiences disappointed.
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Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery