James Camali’s gripping drama, The Mental State, takes an honest look at the forces plaguing America’s teens. It takes a tough look at the current state of our mental health crisis and wonders if there’s an answer.
Andy (Jance Enslin) is a withdrawn high school student trying to get through each day after the death of his father, Dylan (Bryan Greenberg). His widowed mother, Angela (Carly Pope), struggles to get through a life of sobriety with the help of Pastor Shane (Jim True-Frost). Angela and Andy live with her boyfriend, Michael (Michael Gladis), who comes with his own set of problems, including a “mild” addiction to painkillers.
Stuck in a holding pattern in life, Andy is asked by Pastor Shane to drive the truck for the church’s post-sermon hayride run by Andy’s schoolboy crush, Bethany (Alison Thornton). On this routine circle around the field, Andy spies a gunman in the distance who shoots at the truck, disabling it. The quick-thinking Andy rushes Bethany and the kids to safety and becomes a hometown hero. But the town is still shaken by the idea of a shooter roaming around town.
Soon, Andy’s hero persona deteriorates as questions about the shooting make it look like Andy made the whole story up. Soon, Andy begins to spiral, and all Andy’s appointed psychiatrist can do is prescribe him drugs. As almost everyone at school confronts Andy, he rushes off only to be confronted by the gunman…and it’s someone he knows.
“The quick-thinking Andy rushes Bethany and the kids to safety and becomes a hometown hero.”
The Mental State places the spotlight on the mental health crisis running rampant through America’s teens. In the case of Andy, he’s devasted by the loss of his father and the circumstances around his death.
While not many solutions are presented in the film, it highlights the difficulties in finding help. Therapy isn’t cheap, and neither are prescription drugs. We can get into a separate conversation about drugs and whether they actually help or just cover much bigger problems.
The film also follows the frustrations parents feel in caring for their children. Here, Carly Pope gives an excellent performance as Andy’s mother. It’s as if you can see the plight and helplessness of every mother in her face. Angela feels alone; worse, she feels everyone is gunning for her son. It’s almost as if anyone would rather “put him away” than actually try to help.
This is all set up for the final act when Andy walks that slow spiral downward. Like Pope, Jance Enslin gives an equally stirring performance as Andy. Though every story of a troubled teen is different, the feelings of being misunderstood, misjudged, and rejected by everyone around you are felt with Andy’s every action. It’s a tragic tale, and Enslin gives a tragic performance.
I’ll be honest. I like my movies to have answers, but what The Mental State does well is shine a light on the problem when kids like Andy are suffering, yet used as political propaganda for votes, as opposed to individual persons in need of help that is readily available. The problem is not just access to help, but us as a society that builds walls between our neighbors and shoves problems off to the next guy…or worse…
"…shine a light on the problem when kids like Andy are suffering..."