REVIEW: Crazy Eyes Traces the Travails of a Rich, Self-Absorbed, Self-Pitying Angeleno. Do We Care?
The rich, F. Scott Fitzgerald famously (and much overabusedly) wrote, "are different from you and me," and Crazy Eyes tests just how much an audience will be able to care about their problems despite this fact. Wealth isn't the explicit topic of the film, but it colors everything about it, from the swank house in the hills in which Zach (Lukas Haas) lives to the women who trail after him with dollar signs in their eyes to the way that he seems to have nothing to fill his time with except alcohol. The privilege isn't the problem so much as how it has shaped our protagonist — a self-absorbed, self-pitying Los Angeles asshole who happens to be in a self-destructive phase. The motivating factor of the film is Zach's pursuit of something, for once, he isn't easily able to have — Rebecca (Madeline Zima), to whom he's given the nickname "Crazy Eyes," a girl who'll drink herself into oblivion at his side but who won't sleep with him.
Crazy Eyes is the third directorial effort from Adam Sherman, and is, like his 2010 Happiness Runs, based on his own personal experiences, suggesting he either has a staggering sense of self-laceration or a just as noteworthy lack of awareness about audience empathy. The close of the film would seem to indicate the latter, as it finds Zach murmuring in his periodic noir-style voiceover that "I could tell you pleasing details, like maybe I quit drinking or ended up with a beautiful girl, but I don't feel like telling you stuff like that, because if I told, and it was true, then I'd probably mess it up like everything else." Until that point, the film has done so little to make you hope for or invest in any way in Zach's redemption that the moment is eyebrow-raising — were we supposed to be rooting for this jerk the entire time?
Zach's malaise is due in part to his recent divorce and in part to some lingering parental resentment. Between bouts with booze we see him neglect his adorable, lisping urchin of a son and deal with his folks as his father (Ray Wise) tries to recover from a stroke. His days bleed into his nights in a slurry series of drunk scenes blending into bleary daylight — one thing Crazy Eyes does do well is to offer a feel for the elasticity of time when you're in the middle of a bender, the messy burnt ends of disastrous evenings followed by the characters groaningly waking up in the late afternoon with little sense of mooring ("Oh, man, is it the weekend?" Zach asks, dismayed, when he pulls up to an art exhibit on a date and sees the length of the line outside).
We never see where Zach met Rebecca, but at first she's not even at the top of his list of girls to call when he wants company for the evening. She gets Zach's attention by refusing it — by letting him take her back to his home and then pushing him away when he tries to make a move on her, saying that she has a boyfriend. This pattern comes to define their relationship, as do attempts at what Zach fondly refers to as a "struggle-fuck." She comes over and often ends up in Zach's bed, but his attempts at anything physical generally end, unpleasantly, with her fighting him off, sometimes violently.
Despite Zach's name for her, how crazy Rebecca actually is is something of an open question. The film is a measure of Zach's subjective experience, from his narration to the way it visually echoes his less-than-sober outlook with jittery editing and close camerawork, and so presumably she's being seen through his biased personal filter, as is his snippy ex-wife (Moran Atias), "lingerie designer" Autumn (Tania Raymonde) and the girl in New York (Regine Nehy) who keeps calling him to profess her love and insist "I just want your dick so bad it hurts." All the women in Zach's world are beautiful and want his money, and Rebecca is something of an anomaly because she resists, though we start to feel this may be part of a calculated game for her to keep him in the chase.
Sherman co-wrote Crazy Eyes with Rachel Hardisty, the real-life inspiration for Rebecca, along with Dave Reeves, who's presumably the rough equivalent to Zach's bartending/coke-dealing best friend Dan (Jake Busey) — another relationship based, at least in part, on an underlying monetary enticement. The film seems to aim for a gritty and real depiction of a drug- and drink-fueled not-quite romance, but it's in fact just your worst fears about the kinds of people who populate L.A. brought to ugly, misogynistic and sometimes maudlin life. "You're a rich asshole with no feelings — you don't even know what it's like to struggle!" Rebecca yells at Zach right after we've seen him get, and not share with her, terrible news about his family. But it doesn't feel like she's wrong — it's all just fodder for his eventual movie.