Peter Sattler made his feature length directorial debut with Camp X-Ray, a film that that received mixed reviews for two reasons. It’s either most critics are more conservative that lay viewers think they are. Or, that the film’s preachiness might turn people off regardless of their political biases. Anyway, Sattler is back with Broken Diamonds, which is about Scott (Ben Platt), a waiter who wants to go to Paris to write a novel. His father’s death, though, puts a wrench in his plans. One of the things he and his stepmother, Cookie (Yvette Nicole Brown), must do is to sell their house. But the house’s surprise co-owner is Scott’s sister Cindy (Lola Kirke), a woman with schizophrenia.
Cindy also goes by another name, which is just one of the problems that this family faces. Many films and shows tackle mental illness, or have scenes showing characters who go get help with their mental health. But outside of documentaries, too few films, in recollection, call neuro atypical health problems by name. This is one of the fictional films tackling and identifying those problems, as well as depicting Cindy’s downward spiral. And one of those points involve her insistence to go to a party where no one wants her. For full disclosure, I had a family member who was neuro atypical, so I am expert enough in saying that this film differs from Camp X-Ray in that there’s an unintentional cruelty here.
I say unintentional because I’m sure Kirke has intentions. But Kirke’s rendition of Cindy’s schizophrenia feels caricature-ish and borderline cruel, as if Cindy is a spectacle and inhuman. The film occasionally plays her episodes for laughs. Another flaw within Hollywood or Indie-wood is that both industries often depict people with neuro atypical divergences through their relatives. This is not Cindy’s story, the camera doesn’t follow her. Instead, it’s Scott. Again, as someone who has endured this stuff, relatives of neuro atypical people have their own burdens.
These relatives also make mistakes as caregivers, reluctant or otherwise. But why does the camera stay with Scott as he calls his mother, who mostly exists through flashbacks. He comforts her when he loses control, pardon the word choice, of Cindy? Perhaps scenes like that one exist so that there’s cinematic record of Platt crying. After all, that talent got him a Tony Award. But the film puts Scott’s burdens on equal footing with Cindy’s which feels like a choice. This film could have benefited from a change in narrative perspective or better execution. What also needed work was Kirke and Platt’s lack of fraternal or sibling chemistry.