Schizophrenia is a disease that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, and rarely do we get to see it on film in a convincing way. The most famous example is obviously Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind, which I personally find overrated and bordering on exploitative. Broken Diamonds comes at a time when exploring mental illness and raising awareness is becoming more commonplace and important. It’s an emotionally devastating, yet hopeful and inquisitive examination of this chronic condition, brought to life via two powerhouse acting performances from Ben Platt and Lola Kirke.
Scott (Ben Platt) is only one week from fulfilling his dream of moving to Paris and writing a novel, but a shocking tragedy rattles him to his core. His father has passed away suddenly, leaving his schizophrenic sister, Cindy (Lola Kirke), in destructive freefall. The day of the flight fast approaches, and Scott tries to find somewhere to turn as his circumstances overwhelm his carefully calculated exit trip.
Ben Platt is already a Tony Award-winning actor, so it really shouldn’t be such a surprise that he completely owns his role as aspiring author Scott. Scott has his own sets of issues: he is still rattled about the effect his sister’s illness has had on his life (“I got my first pimple on the way to a mental institution!”); his father’s death is weighing heavy on his wellbeing; he is scrambling around to get his affairs in order before the Paris trip; and he’s trying to push Cindy and her illness off somewhere he won’t have to deal with it. An emotional breakdown, even more raw and powerful thanks to the moving score, brings to mind Platt’s phenomenal work in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen. He is just as hilarious when the script calls for it—when a teen offers him an ice cream cone for an important deal falling through, Scott responds: “Yes, I want a cone.”
On the flipside, Lola Kirke’s work is just as fantastic, and even more surprising in its authenticity. Cindy is complicated, and when off her meds, calls herself Sheena. She carries weight of her own, having constant tenant issues, being judged by others, unable to hold down a steady job, and entirely erratic in her behavior. An awkward party scene where Cindy drags along Scott to see a girl she considers her “best friend” is equal parts cringe and devastating. Cindy is destructive, though never in a way that feels as if she’s lashing out on purpose. Kirke plays both the highs and lows with impressive range. Precise glimmers of flashbacks clue in the viewer as to the father’s relationship with each of the siblings.
Broken Diamonds, hailing from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is meaningful and rich with detail. It almost feels like an awards contender. The humor is biting and sharp, but the sibling connection steers the ship. Ben Platt and Lola Kirke are incredible. The vulnerable realism of Steve Waverly’s script reverberates in every frame: Broken Diamonds is based on his real-life experiences caring for a sister with schizophrenia. I can only hope this important movie will continue to help spread the word about schizophrenia, and the importance of therapy for dealing with mental illness.