Review by Sean Boelman
Peter Sattler’s Broken Diamonds seems like a travesty waiting to happen: a dramedy about mental illness starring a hit-or-miss actor. However, if by some stroke of good luck or a perfect storm of the right talents coming together, it’s a surprisingly earnest film that gets enough laughs while warming the viewer’s heart.
The movie follows a writer who is ready to move to Paris when his father suddenly dies and he is stuck taking care of his unpredictable, mentally ill sister. There are a lot of things trying to happen here all at once, and somehow writer Steve Waverly manages to balance all of these storylines in a way that is mostly satisfying.
Admittedly, the film does feel like it is a bit rushed. The timeline gets somewhat confusing as the characters run into different obstacles on their respective journeys. Waverly’s strategy seems to have been to focus on each character individually, one’s arc pausing as the other’s begins to ramp up and alternating throughout the movie, and it mostly works.
The most effective moments in the film are those which explore the characters’ grief because these are the parts that feel the most honest and true-to-life. It can be hard to like both of them at times as they both exhibit some annoying characteristics, but their emotional experience is what will allow the audience to connect with them.
That said, the idea of using another character’s mental illness as a means of progressing the protagonist’s growth is questionable at best. Although the sister does have an arc of her own, it is not equal in development to that of her brother, and it’s ultimately subordinate in a way that can be problematic.
Ben Platt is doing his usual whiny schtick, and while there are some who are undeniably not going to be fans of this because they find him obnoxious, he does it well. The very talented Lola Kirke manages to give a mostly respectful performance, even if it does go a bit over the top at times. And in a small supporting role, Yvette Nicole Brown is just lovely.
On a technical level, this has a lot of the trademarks of a quirky indie dramedy. There’s a quiet, bouncy soundtrack and score and cinematography that is pretty invisible, emphasizing the performances and script. It’s a very standard approach from director Peter Sattler, but it’s pretty charming nevertheless.
Broken Diamonds is much more enjoyable and effective than one would ever expect it to be. Although it isn’t without its fair share of problems, a nice balance of humor and heart makes this a strong crowd-pleaser.
Broken Diamonds is now in theaters and on VOD.