Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple (“Wild Man Blues,” “Harlan County, USA”) gives herself over to Oprah Winfrey’s vision of the world in “Running from Crazy,” a movie about the Hemingways and their troubled family history of mental illness and suicide.
It has celebrity and self-help, beautiful people overcoming tragedy, allegations of child abuse and the redemption of “coming out the other side.” No wonder Winfrey produced it and her OWN media company is releasing it.
“Crazy” is built around the model-turned Oscar-nominated actress Mariel Hemingway, who has taken to speaking out about depression and suicide in a very public way. An idealist will see that as her means of coping with “The Hemingway Legacy,” suicides that seemed to start with the father of her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, and continued through her sister — seven, that they’re sure about. Mariel has two daughters and she wants them to know the family history and be on the lookout for signs of mental trouble and to be OK with seeking help.
A cynic might note that this activism comes as the still gorgeous Mariel clears 50 and the demand for her work has dried up. And the cynic will not be shaken in that belief by all the shots of Mariel exercising, bouncing on the trampoline, rock-climbing and swinging Kettlebells between her legs, always in shape-flattering leotards.
“I learned how to play in the last two years,” she explains.
It’s enough to make you wonder how much Kopple herself bought into the project, as the film is scattered, random — part Hemingway history, part advertisement for Mariel’s gifts and her beautiful daughters’ futures as models and/or actresses.
But it benefits most from its generous inclusion of footage from Mariel’s sister’s documentary, “Hemingway: Winner Take Nothing.” Margaux Hemingway did an Ernest Hemingway pilgrimage, visiting the places he made famous, interviewing family and Papa’s surviving friends, experiencing what he experienced — bullfights, fishing, hunting — in the 1980s. She did not finish that film before taking her own life in 1996.
“Running from Crazy” lets Mariel lay it all out there, her decades of fad diets and self-actualization, her testy relationship with her now-dead sister and her guilty refusal to stay in touch with a mentally ill older sister, still living near the family’s Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho home. You appreciate Mariel’s guts for coming off as superior — a better actress than her “dumb” party-animal sister Margaux. She lets us meet her ex-husband and lets us see a comical meltdown as her latest toy boy beau, a stuntman-personal trainer type, stupidly races offroad to a rock climbing site and trashes two non-offroadable Mini Coopers in the process.
It could have been a TED Talk on mental illness and suicide, with Mariel declaring “You think you know me…People think I’ve lived this charmed life…But I’m scared, too.” But Hemingway wins us over and, in the end, comes off as earnest in her desire to use her celebrity to help shine a light on the maladies that have shattered her family, time and again. That she does it in between Kettlebell workouts is a bonus that feels Oprah approved.
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