Legendary author Ernest Hemingway may have lived a life chock-full of adventure but his biggest challenge appears to have been his own demons. Running From Crazy finds renowned documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple taking an intimate look at the legacy of mental health issues which have dogged three generations of the Hemingway family. To help her out, she has enlisted the Nobel Prize-winning writer’s youngest granddaughter (actress-turned-campaigner, Mariel) who acts as a guide to the lives of her dysfunctional clan.
With Oprah Winfrey credited as ‘executive producer’ (it’s set to be released via her own network in the US) you could almost be forgiven into thinking this is a US-style, daytime TV pop psychology fluff piece. Mariel’s sometimes laboured camera confessionals and theatrical self-help speeches unhelpfully add to that impression. Thankfully, the film manages to transcend that format by revealing the deeper, darker secrets of the family dynasty, and by Kopple’s choice of including older, compelling footage of the Hemingway’s at a vulnerable stage in their lives.
Mariel’s deceased middle sister, Margaux, began constructing an intimate portrayal of her family almost thirty years back. She was a famous model in the late 70’s/early 80s, and became tabloid fodder at that time, due to her hard-living lifestyle and larger-than-life personality. These candid snapshots of her relationship with her alcoholic mother, eccentric eldest daughter Muffet and seemingly loving father are fascinating to watch and act as a sobering experience in hindsight, when Mariel hints at abuse taking place within the already fractured household.
Mariel herself gained fame at an early age (she appearing as Woody Allen’s young teenage love in 1979’s Manhattan) and, aside from the aforementioned lapses into actor-ly platitudes, she is a bright and sympathetic figure. Conquering her own issues, and living a (seemingly) happy and peaceful existence, the brief scene she shares with her surviving sister (who has been diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia and is now unrecognisable from the earlier footage) bristles with an awkwardness and sadness, and is painful to watch.
At 105 minutes, the film is perhaps a little too long, but aside from the saccharine which occasionally lurks beneath and sometimes threatens to undermine the powerful points being made, this is an otherwise engaging and thoughtful study of a hereditary illness (Margaux sadly died of a drug overdose in 1996 – exactly 35 years after her grandfather committed suicide).