‘The Institute’ is Ambitious but Misses the Mark (review)
By Lois Kennedy
Director: James Franco, Pamela Romanowsky
Cast: Allie Gallerani, James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Lori Singer, Eric Roberts, Josh Duhamel
Isabel is a young woman in the late 1890s who is so distraught over the recent death of her parents that her doctor suggests that she go to the Rosewood Institute, a “women’s health center.” There she meets a few bizarre characters, including Dr. Cairn, whose unorthodox methods of healing are both dangerous and detrimental.
The opening credits are overlaid with shocking photos of women in 1800s health settings; some are even bound in restraints. Given this and the general synopsis of the film, I settled in for an empathetic view of women reminiscent of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” What I got instead was a mish-mash of ideologies and a total 180 in the storyline. Isabel’s “therapy” involves mastering pain and discarding her rich, decadent lifestyle, which seems like it would be good for her. Cairn initially sympathizes with her plight as a woman, encouraging her to yearn for freedom from social constraints and to be independent. And then the movie turns into Eyes Wide Shut, crazy masks and all.
The costumes are great, and to my inexperienced eye the movie seems free of visual historical anachronisms. However, when it comes to the dialogue, some of the characters speak much more formally than others, not as an aspect of class or social standing, but randomly in what felt like laziness on the part of the writers. It’s very jarring, and every time someone says “gonna” I cringed inside. As far as character consistency, Isabel is supposedly so grief-stricken that she is labeled hysterical, but her character is quite cheerful; Isabel has a gentle smile for everyone and puts on a perpetual optimistic front.
The original premise is fascinating; what was an 1890s women’s health center like? I would much rather have that explored than what the movie evolves into. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I can’t go much into how the plot changes, but I can tell you the movie takes a bizarre turn that doesn’t even make much sense. The ending is almost cool but then gets really confusing as well.
Overall, I wasn’t sorry I watched it, but it was a frustrating experience.
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