Bad Hurt

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Iris Gilad, Karen Allen, Michael Harney and Theo Rossi in Bad Hurt
"The film hinges on a powerful central performance by Karen Allen."

According to peer reviewed studies, the rate of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is somewhere between 13% and 20%. It's a significant burden for the families of returning soldiers but what tends to be overlooked is that some of those families are already struggling before it lands on them. The Kendalls seem to be managing financially but in other ways life is very difficult. Their twentysomething daughter DeeDee (Iris Gilad, a standout on the stage) is cognitively disabled, their elderly neighbours are worn out by her screaming, and the pressure of it all is threatening their marriage. Something's got to give.

Adapted by director Mark Kemble from his play Bad Hurt On Cedar Street, the film hinges on a powerful central performance by Karen Allen as Elaine, the wife and mother trying to hold it all together. Although the script is clunky in places and the direction still a little too stagy, some solid supporting working work keeps things interesting. The claustrophobic nature of the story suits the limited use of location and the costumes and set dressing make these people feel real.

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Bad Hurt touches on a number of difficult issues, including drug addiction, sexual abuse within the military and the poor support available to the mentally ill. It explores the centrality of military service to some notions of American identity (the senior Mr Kendall is a Vietnam veteran) and the problems this creates when individuals and military institutions fall short of expectations. There's also a poignant sub-plot concerning DeeDee's relationship with a similarly disabled young man (played by Calvin Dutton), which prompts questions over the rights of disabled people to express their emotions and sexual desires. When the family faces another tragedy, it prompts Elaine to stop treading water and start fighting to give DeeDee the choices she no longer has in her own life.

The difficulty with all this is that such overwhelming grimness can prompt audiences to disengage, especially from those characters who are most difficult to relate to. Kemble depends on the actors to overcome this. For the most part they're successful, but, whilst the subjects being tackled are undoubtedly important, one is left with the feeling that had it not tried to hit so hard the film might have delivered a more effective punch.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2016
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A family struggles with two grown up children who have complex mental health needs.

Festivals:

Tribeca 2015

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