Review: Romantic Drama 'Elizabeth Blue' Beautifully Handles Mental Illness

Elizabeth Blue is a beautiful new film from first-time writer/director Vincent Sabella, who makes his voice heard loud and clear with this stunning debut feature. The film follows the eponymous Elizabeth (Anna Schafer), a thirty year old woman combatting her schizophrenia while trying to plan her wedding. As simple a story as that may sound, the filmmakers’ brutal, spot-on depiction of mental illness puts you firmly in Elizabeth’s shoes, making the world of the film intense, disorienting, and ultimately beautiful. I watched the film a couple of days ago, and it hasn’t left my mind since. I’ve certainly been impressed or surprised by movies before, but I can’t remember the last time a story knocked me out as hard as Elizabeth Blue did.

The movie expertly shows us her distorted point of view. We see each hallucination and hear every disembodied suicidal voice bouncing around her head. We watch her personal relationships strain as she struggles to express herself and connect with the world around her. We experience this heartbreaking worldview in such a carefully crafted way that we leave the film empathizing with her, but never pitying her. Anna Schafer beautifully plays Elizabeth a strong person in a situation out of her control, and Sabella’s writing backs this up. Elizabeth Blue definitely does dramatize things, but never in a disrespectful manner.

Sabella has been very open about the inspiration for the film coming from his own battle with schizophrenia, and it’s his openness about the topic that really makes Elizabeth Blue stand out. One character goes so far as to explicitly state that they’re tired of treating mental illness like a dirty secret. This is an incredibly honest film about a topic that movies don’t usually handle with care, if they even address it at all. While it does use Elizabeth’s symptoms for dramatic purposes, it never once felt exploitative in doing so.  As a person who struggles with mental health myself, I could tell that this movie was coming from the heart of person who knows of the pain they’re depicting. This wasn’t like Split or Psycho which, although both are obviously brilliant movies, use mental illness to paint images of scary, unpredictable people who endanger our “normal” society. Elizabeth Blue instead shows a deep, interesting, loving, intelligent, actual human being who has become incapacitated by her own mind.

The scenes of her struggling with medical side effects and doctors’ appointments are painfully accurate, and the love story at the plot’s center is absolutely heartbreaking. The cast is solid all around. Initially, I was only taken by Schafer’s performance, finding the supporting characters confusing or one dimensional. As the film continued and built to its conclusion, though, I was able to see what they were going for and began to appreciate the things that the other actors were doing to develop their characters.

For the majority of the film, I was impressed by its raw emotional honesty and exploration of mental illness, but wasn’t especially wrapped up in the story. It is a rather slow paced, somber movie, and I didn’t think much of it. What ultimately brings the film together, and makes it a narrative that will stick with me, is the way the ending is played. I walked away from Elizabeth Blue utterly shaken in the most positive way possible. It is haunting. The final note the film goes out on is simply stunning. This is a quiet film, and a contemplative one, and in the end it is absolutely beautiful. The overall experience of watching this movie just floored me in a way that I really can’t put into words. If you can handle the type of emotional rollercoaster that Elizabeth Blue wants to set you on, I would highly recommend it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5