Movie Review: Dropped out, Manic, stuck in “The Year Between”

“The Year Between” is an amusing, infuriating and sometimes touching dance around mental illness. It’s a dry, droll dramedy that dares to show the narcissism that comes with a diagnosis that gives a college coed license to suck all of the oxygen out of everyone around her as she offhandedly and carelessly gets treatment, and childishly mucks it up.

“Today is about me,” Clemence announces, as if her family hasn’t figured that out. “EVERY day is about you,” her younger brother reminds her, and not without a truckload of resentment.

Writer, director and star Alex Heller gives this indie film an a memorably obnoxious heroine, a 20 year old who’d probably be a jerk even without the bipolar mania that is what “The German woman” (Waltrudis Buck) says is what ails her the very first time they meet. Clemence (Heller) calls her psychiatrist “the German woman’ to take away some of her power.”

Clemence (Heller) is unfiltered and unmotivated, self-medicating because “I can’t fall asleep at night and everyone hates me,” shoplifting for a cheap thrill and insulting because she can’t be bothered to be otherwise.

We’ve seen her blithely bully and terrorize her college roommate, who finally has had enough and calls Clemence’s Mom (J. Smith-Cameron), who shows up in an ancient minivan in a fury. She, too, has had enough.

Thus “the German woman.” Followed by “Lithium.” And a therapist. When you’re riding around your home town (Oak Brook, Illinois) and saying the demonic part out loud — “Somebody should BOMB this place,” folks are going to be alarmed.

“The Year Between” is a “true events” inspired account of a mentally ill “gap year.” Clemence needs help and Mom is determined to get it for her, no matter how ruinous it is for the finances of a gift shop owner and her school teacher husband (Steve Buscemi), no matter how disruptive it is for college bound younger sister Carlin (Emily Robinson) or shy, trying to come into his own high school freshman Neil (Wyatt Oleff).

The family moves her into the basement, where if nothing else, her night terrors will be a little harder to hear and her lashing out isn’t likely to break anything valuable.

Her siblings are forced out of the family’s focus as the “mentally ill burnout” takes all the attention and effort. Clemence takes the dog for a walk at down, and doesn’t come back until the wee hours of the following morning. Clemence entertains the attentions of stoner ex-classmate Ashik (Rajeev Jacob).

But she eventually gets a job down at Big Deals, the discount store.

“I don’t have any previous experience, references or emergency contacts.” Her qualifications? “I have a name, an address and a dream!”

There aren’t any real “wake-up calls” with mental illness. If there were, younger Black colleague Beth (Kyanna Simone) would be Clemence’s. Beth is much more adult, organizing and planning her future because if she goes off the rails “nobody’s taking me in to live in their basement.”

Heller is the embodiment of narcissistic deadpan in this role she has scripted and built her movie around. She tests us as the rude and rash Clemence tests her family, daring us to not like her, not root for her, to not wish her away.

Every character is generously fleshed-in, letting us see the problems dogging her neglected siblings, her mother’s determination to do right by a kid who is wrecking their family and Clemence’s dad’s upbeat nature, sorely tested by a child so ill everybody else’s issues take a back seat.

“After a point, chaos sucks.”

Heller details the pitfalls of psychotherapy — it’s expensive and not every shrink graduated in the top half of his or her class — and the side effects of prescription drugs.

And for all of that, she manages to find room for the slightest glimmer of hope.

This indie outing won’t find a large audience, but that sliver of optimism makes it a must-see movie for anybody dealing with someone on the Clemence spectrum in their life. By giving us a solid if snarky take on the what living with ADHD in its ugliest forms is like, both for the sufferer and those who suffer with her, our first-time writer-director has made a movie that can’t help but be a public service.

Rating: unrated, adult subject matter, drug abuse, sex, profanity

Cast: Alex Heller, Kyanna Simone, J Smith-Cameron, Emily Robinson, Wyatt Oleff, Rajeev Jacob, Waltrudis Buck and Steve Buscemi

Credits: Scripted and directed by Alex Heller. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:34


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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2 Responses to Movie Review: Dropped out, Manic, stuck in “The Year Between”

  1. S. Neaves says:

    Did you watch this movie? The main character was diagnosed with BIPOLAR.

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