“I Never Want to See Josh Again” – Crazy Ex Girlfriend’s Exploration of Mental Illness & What It Really Means to Be ‘Crazy’

*Trigger warning for suicide*

*also spoilers obviously*

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — “I Never Want to See Josh Again” — Image Number: CEG305b_0209.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Tovah Feldshuh as Naomi and Rachel Bloom as Rebecca — Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW — © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

In last week’s episode of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, our beloved yet highly distressed heroine Rebecca takes a turn for the worse. Yes, in the past she has manipulated, lied, destroyed her friends lives, broken into her own house, installed tracking devices in Valencia, and last but not least, stalked Josh Chan across the country. Though the series has lightly (and not so lightly) tapped into Rebecca’s mental illness before (often at the hands of her long suffering therapist), ‘I Never Want to See Josh Again’ went to a place the show has not visited before.

Throughout the witty humour, social commentary and catchy musical numbers, there’s always been an underlying theme of mental illness in the show. The title, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend refers to a misogynistic phrase that women often get branded after a relationship breakdown.  Crazy Ex Girlfriend, as well as being incredibly self-aware and progressive in other aspects, often debates the use of the word crazy. Regularly, women are labelled as a ‘crazy ex’; a sexist, simplistic marker that men can use to diminish any of their own responsibilities for a relationship failing. Rebecca Bunch, the ex of the title, bucks the stereotype by being a interesting and developed character. But, as the show goes on, something becomes abundantly clear. Rebecca Bunch may actually be crazy. Not in a flippant way, or derogatory way. Rebecca is seriously mentally ill – something which is brought to the forefront at the beginning of S3.

This isn’t the first time that we have been invited to think about Rebecca’s actions as the behaviour of someone who is really quite ill, rather than as a caricature or humourous. Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a hilarious show, but from the end of season one, it was clear that Rebecca needed help of some sort. Real help.

At the beginning of the episode, Rebecca is reeling from her newest attempt to destroy Josh’s life, in the style of Swimfan, a film I have never seen but now desperately want to. Rebecca has gone off the deep end this time (sorry for the pun) and when she sends Josh a thinly veiled threat about his mother, it’s the last straw. Josh reveals everything that was in his ‘Rebecca Bunch’ envelope, including Robert who is NOT a dog, to all of the gang in West Covina. Not cool Josh, not cool.

Unsurprisingly, despite Rebecca’s anxiety-child telling her differently, Paula, Valencia and Darryl all rally around her, desperate to help her through this dark time. Rebecca, naturally, becomes defensive and proceeds to tell each one of them what is wrong with them. It’s one of the saddest scenes in Crazy Ex Girlfriend yet, Rebecca’s words are cold and callous, and the hurt that is caused is clear.  She tells Paula that she is fed up Paula treating her as a daughter, and suggests she spends time with her own family. She then proceeds to rip into Valencia and Heather, mocking Valencia for planning her dream wedding for Josh and Rebecca, and Heather for perpetually being a student and being unable to make up her mind about anything. Finally, she tells Darryl that there is no way White Josh wants a baby with him and he needs to realise that.

Not only are all of these things hurtful, they are almost all true. Rebecca, due to understanding how insecurities work all too well, manages to tap into each of her friends’ vulnerabilities in a pretty sadistic way. And, although all of them are hurt, they are still determined to help her. However, we begin Episode 5 with Rebecca flying back to New York to move back in with her mother – Naomi, trying to avoid any contact with anyone in West Covina.  As we well know, Rebecca and her mother are not exactly best friends. In fact, it’s very heavily implied in earlier episodes that Naomi’s controlling nature might just be a factor in Rebecca’s mental illness.

To begin with, Naomi continues her controlling streak – resigning Rebecca from her job in West Covina, insisting that she get up and stop moping around. It’s only when Naomi discovers that Rebecca has been researching ways to kill herself that things begin to change.

‘Maybe She’s not Such Heinous Bitch After All’, Rebecca sings, as her mother brings her strawberry milkshakes, gives her a cuddle on the sofa and wears the matching tracksuits Rebecca has bought her. It soon becomes clear though, that Naomi’s intentions are not entirely pure – though this is debatable. It turns out she has been lacing Rebecca’s milkshakes with anxiety medications.

Now, whilst it isn’t a great idea to drug anyone against their will, I can see Naomi’s logic here. Realising that your daughter might be on the verge of suicidal must be a terrible, terrible feeling – and Naomi’s controlling instincts went into overdrive. She saw the medication as a quick fix to get Rebecca back on feet. I believe she genuinely cares, but Naomi see’s Rebecca as a problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a human being who needs emotional nourishment.

Meanwhile in West Covina, the gang are getting used to life without Rebecca. ‘I Never Want to See Josh Again’ gives a glimpse into how life would be for them if Rebecca was a ‘normal’ employee/friend.  When Whitefeather & Associates hire a replacement for Rebecca though, it begins to become apparent what a terrible friend Rebecca has been to the people who brazenly adore her. Daryl is overcome with emotion that Cornelia will simply reply to his emails, Maya praises her as a #feminist for signing her mentoring form and Nathaniel is just happy that she gets on with her job without any distractions (including no inappropriate swimsuits). Basically, Cornelia is a functioning human being who does her job, treats her co-workers like people … well the opposite of Rebecca. This is a hard pill to swallow, because although we always knew Rebecca wasn’t the greatest person in the world, we never really saw how much destruction she causes to those around her until she wasn’t there anymore.

After the altercation with Naomi, Rebecca, upset and angry, gets on a plane back to West Covina. Then she remembers that she’s essentially pissed off everyone there, so she asks the flight attendant to drop her off ‘around Ohio’. Not possible. Rebecca, after ordering a glass of wine, proceeds to overdose on the anxiety pills. Right at the end, she utters the three words we’ve all been waiting for her to say. I need help.

Covering suicide is a tricky thing to get right, even though more and more TV shows are trying it (on that note DO NOT watch 13 Reasons Why). Crazy Ex Girlfriend, as always, approaches suicide and mental illness with the tact, sensitivity and bleak humour that it is known for. Rebecca’s mental illness isn’t funny, but we laugh because we all sort of get it. We are all Rebecca to some extent. Watching Rebecca hit rock bottom was hard not only because she’s our protagonist and we want her to succeed, but because we hit rock bottom with her.

In some sense, this episode has been a long time coming. Finding out about the Robert situation and Rebecca’s stay inside a mental rehabilitation facility hinted heavily towards this kind of thing happening again. Bloom has fed us subtleties, titbits of information throughout the series, until an episode like this was absolutely inevitable. Rebecca does a lot of things in the series that we don’t actually see that would lead us to think that she is actually mentally ill. Like reading the entirety of the Hunger Games in one night just to be able to make a joke from it. We dismiss these because we only hear Rebecca say it, we don’t actually see her in this situation. It’s really easy to hear these anecdotes as funny stories rather than as a indication of a serious mental disorder. 

Yes ‘I Never Want to See Josh Again’ was a hard watch, and emotional, but it also might have been the best episode of the series so far. 

Crazy Ex Girlfriend has shown mental illness to be serious, ridiculous, sad, distressing and funny all at the same time. Rebecca has a long journey upwards from here, and no doubt that will change the dynamic of the show, but I am with her all the way*.

Also, if you really want to get in deep with the critical analysis/psycology/social commentary of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, then check out Bagels After Midnight on Youtube who makes the best vids on this!

 

 

*Apart from sleeping with Greg’s Dad. Ewwwwwww what???

 

LFF 2017: Ana, mon amour Review

In a student flat, in the heart of Bucharest, Ana and Toma are having a deep, flirtatious conversation about literature and philosophy. They sit side by side, locking eyes, laughing at one another. They giggle at the noises of loud sex that carry into the small flat from the people next door.  It is the beginning of a romance. Ana spills her drink. Whilst Toma walks away to find something to clean it up with, Ana begins rummaging furiously through her bag, looking for something. She’s hyperventilating. She can’t find her tablets. Toma tries to reassure her, but Ana is gone. She is having a panic attack. Toma lies her down, and strokes her stomach – soothing at first, but then sexually. They embrace each other.

The first sequence of Cãlin Peter Netzer’s Ana, mon amour, sets the mood for Ana (Diana Cavallioti) and Toma’s (Mircea Postelnicu) tumultuous, long term relationship. Ana suffers from frequent panic attacks, and various mental health issues that are not completely disclosed. She has trouble leaving the house, an act which often results in her having a full on panic attack. Netzer’ explores their relationship from university, to adulthood, to parenthood – all the while examining the effects of mental illness on a relationship, and the cyclical nature of family trauma. Presented out of sequence, Ana, mon amour takes us through scenes of Ana and Toma’s life together, as Toma is recalling his experiences to a therapist after his and Ana’s divorce.

As in keeping with the traditions of Romanian cinema, Netzer keeps his camera close to his subjects and handheld, for most of the film. We are invited to investigate every inch of their faces, their bodies and their personal space. Much of the cinematography is handheld, giving a sense of constant movement and change – a huge theme of the film. We, as the camera, are never stable – much like Ana, and much like Ana and Toma’s relationship. The camera also feels intrusive in their lives at some points, especially when it captures acts that are traditionally private. Sex scenes between Ana and Toma are graphic and Netzer doesn’t hold back from showing everything. The same goes for Ana’s panic attacks – the camera moves closer into her face, capturing a private and shameful moment for her. It feels claustrophobic – we feel as Ana does.

We weave through their lives, space and time itself (and where we are in time is mostly dictated by the length of Toma’s hair). We learn that Ana is from a poorer rural background, Toma is from an affluent religious background. Their backgrounds, possibly more so than Ana’s mental health, are a source of tension between them – Toma’s parents have a very visceral hatred of Ana on their first meeting. This seems to subside by the time they the two of them have a child, because the next time we see Ana and Toma’s parents together, they are all together at what seems to be a traditional Romanian religious event.

This sort of ‘bait and switch’ occurs several times, most notably with the birth of their child. In one scene, Ana and Toma are convinced that they will have an abortion, but a few minutes later, we see Ana at 24 weeks pregnant having tests done on her unborn child.

Consequently, Ana, mon amour can come off as confusing. Netzer gives nothing away, we are expected to do a large amount of work to figure out where we are, how far we are into their relationship and how old the two of them are now. It’s frustrating, perhaps a reflection of how frustrated Toma feels with Ana. Perhaps it is also reflection of the Ana’s frustration at her health and being torn between her failing medication, Toma’s insistence on religion as a solution, and her own desire to see her psychotherapist. Religious symbolism is rife throughout the film, and is often presented as the antithesis to modern antidepressants/medication. 

Though this technique sometimes works well for Netzer, and clearly has deeper connotations, it also means that a lot of smaller details are missed by the audience. It also means that the deeper we get into the film, the more disorientated we are with the constant time-hopping. It is difficult to understand, especially at the end, what has really happened and what has only happened inside Tomas’s head. Though as I’m sure  Ana, mon amour is supposed to be ambiguous, walking away from it not knowing what really went on felt very dissatisfying. 

Though Ana, mon amour is not a film about placing the blame, or deciding who was good or bad in the relationship, there is a sense of competing misery between the two main characters by the end. Toma, expressing this to his therapist, feels that he has been dealt an undeserved hand. He feels that he cared for Ana, that he ‘invested’ in her when she was sick, and now she is better, she doesn’t need him anymore. He also reveals that he believed that he loved Ana because she was dependent on him. In another scene, Ana tells him that he exacerbated her condition by controlling her all the time, by doing everything for her and by never encouraging her to be independent. Now that she is healthy and independent, he doesn’t like it.

Whilst both of them have their own issues to work through, and clearly communication is one of them, I felt very strongly for Ana’s character. Toma, who held the power throughout most of the film, came across as entitled and controlling. This seems to be at odds with Netzer’s intentions, however. It is Toma’s voice that dictates the way we see Ana, as it is through his therapy session that we are reliving their relationship. It feels like we are supposed to see Ana as selfish by the end – with her new blonde managerial haircut, her unwillingness to look after their child and the secrets she keeps from Toma.

Though Cavaliotti does a phenomenal job portraying Ana’s insecurity and anxiety, it is clear that Netzer wants Ana to be a ‘type’, rather than a well rounded character. Ana starts off as a problem which Toma needs to fix, but then becomes the shadow of Toma’s mother – a woman who wants to leave her husband. Equally, Ana’s mother fits this second ‘type’ too – whilst pregnant with Ana, she married another man who was not Ana’s father. Diana, Toma’s ex girlfriend (who we never see, but is integral to understanding Toma’s paranoia) cheated on him as well. For Netzer, all of the woman in Ana, mon amour are essentially the same character.

Nevertheless, I found Ana, mon amour to be a very interesting film. I identified with Ana and whether that is what Netzer intended or not, it doesn’t really matter.

6 Reasons You Should Be Watching ‘Bojack Horseman’

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