Maladies is the story of James (James Franco), a former soap opera star who is living with his slightly deranged sister Patricia (Fallon Goodson). Also living with the siblings is Catherine (Catherine Keener), a somewhat eccentric artist and close friend of James. The film takes place in the early 60's in a time when mental illness wasn't exactly a normal topic of discussion much less treated as a true illness. Moreover, homosexuals, cross-dressers and others who didn't fit society's norms were lumped into the mentally ill category as well.
Though his sister's condition is subtle yet apparent, James himself appears to suffer from "maladies" of his own. A running commentary by a voice in his head paired with some borderline strange behavior shows us that James is always on the edge of losing it completely. When it is revealed early on that the perfectly sane Catherine is gay and a transvestite, an interesting question of what is normal and what is not is dramatically presented.
Director Carter (no typo- one name) beautifully tells this small but powerful tale about a group of loved ones and their so-called demons. Though the film doesn't follow a traditional narrative, Carter weaves together a story that is as entertaining as it is poignant. The film is beautifully shot and employs dazzling mid-century modern production design befitting a director who is also an conceptual artist.
Terrific performances by Catherine Keener, James Franco, and Fallon Goodson ground the film and further elevate this contemplative art piece.
Franco shows the complexity of his character with a perfectly nuanced performance that is never too over the top. Keener beautifully portrays her character's tortured repression without asking for her pity. Fallon's take on the quirky Patricia is subtle and fun with just the right amount of dramatic flair when her character eventually becomes the unexpected voice of reason.
Carter has delivered a film that is beautiful, thought-provoking and intelligently artistic.
- Rebecca Elliott