Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Ratner gives her ample room to explain her take on the world."

There's a brief burst of music at the start of this film that recalls the Madonna song of the same name. Given the context in which that song was written, it's perhaps more appropriate than it sounds. Regina's life is littered with broken relationships - with friends, with family members, with a girlfriend whom she still has to be civil to because they share custody of the dog. Director Rebbie Ratner, whom she also regards as a friend, accompanies her as she ties to work out how much of this stems from her borderline personality disorder (BPD), what that diagnosis really means for her, and how she can bring her behaviour under control.

At the outset, Regina is proud of herself. A woman really annoyed her on the subway and, despite the fact that she was also irritated by the woman's taste in clothing (something that seems to happen a lot), she resisted smashing her face into a wall. A normal person wouldn't have felt the urge to do so, would they? Her question seems genuine, though it's cut off, before she gets an answer, because of her own short attention span. It's an important question because it forces us to ask a question that, despite the appearance of a number of experts in this documentary, never comes up directly: just what is a normal experience of life and where does the implied line lie? We've probably all had bad days on which we've been tempted to be aggressive to strangers. The difference for Regina seems to be that it happens a lot.

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Borderline people feel emotions more intensely, one expert suggests, whilst another reports that her patients often speak of being in severe pain - in hyperbolic terms, but that shouldn't mean their testimony is discounted. Regina, who tends toward mania and has a lot more drive than many people struggling with BPD, is fiercely proactive about tackling it. She wants a more satisfying life. She wants a relationship - preferably with somebody hot - that actually works. And perhaps most of all, she wants to stop feeling so irritable all the time.

The therapy that might help her is complex and expensive (at least for someone who struggles to hold down a job), and takes time. We see something of how it works and of the challenges it throws up. "Why should I learn to tolerate something that's intolerable?" Regina asks, not unreasonably, though the unstated answer must be clear to her - it's the only way she can achieve her goals. But we don't just see her in the context of therapy and Ratner gives her ample room to explain her take on the world. We see her searching through dating websites pointing out what's wrong with all the other lonely hearts. We see her falling out with a woman whose mental health issues she deems far worse than her own. Talking through her life, she reveals herself in complex detail rare in films on films about issues of this sort. Her fierceness and energy can be quite magnetic, for all her willful unpleasantness, but there's a hint of something else beneath them, a suggestion she might one day run out of that energy, and one remembers that 4% of BPD sufferers die by suicide.

Although viewers may be left with the impression that they could cope with Regina only in short doses and wouldn't want to know what she might say about them behind their backs, this is an important, humanising portrait of a woman living with challenges that are rarely part of public discussion. The film is effective in drawing attention to what can be a seriously disabling problem. It's also entertaining, incisive and highly watchable.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2016
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A portrait of a New Yorker living with Borderline Personality Disorder as she seeks self acceptance and recovery.

Director: Rebbie Ratner

Writer: Rebbie Ratner

Starring: John Gunderson, Marsha Linehan, Peter Fonagy, Regina V, David Fox, Antonia New, Barbara R, Mary Zanarini, Charlotte M

Year: 2016

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US


DOC NYC 2016

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