I see this movie as a lot like Crazy/Beautiful in that it turns on high school romance with our female lead turning out to have emotional/psychiatric issues.
In this case, our youngsters are Matt (Chris O'Donnell) and Casey (Drew Barrymore). They meet as neighbors across a lake from each other where Matt spies on Drew with a telescope. Then they're dating. Then they're banned from dating by Casey's parents. From here on, we have a full head of steam of these two needing to be together and getting into more and more trouble because of that. We move swiftly from Drew making a suicide attempt to Matt breaking her out of the hospital to breaking out on their own through the desert, away from all parental authority.
The hidden agenda here is Casey's mental illness. Hints are placed early on, of a freewheeling, just a bit too-out-of-control character, disguised as a rebellious teen. When the real signs start coming out, Matt is already overcommitted to the situation. Perhaps there is a moral in the movie of understanding what you're getting into, but it's not a supported point.
There's been a trend in movies lately of equating mental illness with attractiveness. Crazy/Beautiful has it, as does Forever Lulu. Mad Love goes a little too far with it, endlessly contriving to tie a lack of inhibition to both depression and sexual availability. It's not that it's an unlikely combination, but how fast the switch is pulled on us.
Barrymore is pretty good in a script that's too on-the-nose. It would have been good to see some invented behavior between the lines, but this film is simply not about subtlety - other than its self-perception of slipping in those hints early on. O'Donnell is your standard everyteen, responsible, but prone to bad decisions for love.
Mad Love is a fairly low budget film, but polished off with studio sensibilities. There's some weird soundtrack decisions, but nothing egregious. It gets a little melodramatic at the end, but we're rather expecting it at that point, but the soft focus retrospective montage is a bit too much, and kind of a letdown in place of a real ending.
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