Tadlock, D. (1997). A discussion of the movie, Mad Love. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.
“Mad Love”, a 1995 summer movie starring Chris O’Donnell and Drew Barrymore, struck popularity with teens and twentysomethings despite its mediocre reviews. The story explores the bumpy relationship between Matt-a handsome, shy, high-school senior-and Casey-the new girl in town who is wild and also clinically depressed. According to The Film Journal, “In the real world, they might not be made for each other, but in a world that requires dramatic conflict in the Hollywood tradition of Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, and Endless Love, they’re a perfect match.” (1995, June, p. 42)
Casey, the newcomer, is not readily accepted by fellow classmates. Matt is charmed by her unpredictable behavior, which is so different from his own. (Early in the movie, Casey smashes a fire alarm glass to get Matt’s attention.) After dealing with their “modern-movie-stereotypical” families, they run away together. On the road, they face several hardships: a wrecked vehicle, Casey’s accostal by a salesman they hitch a ride with, and Casey’s worsening depression.
The film gleans into the lives of these teenagers. In one scene, they discuss whether they would like to know what day they will die. Casey wants to know; Matt does not. This is one of several moments that showing how these young people are trying to make sense of their worlds. The film craftfully pulls the audience into the out-of-control world of these two teenagers: Casey, the troubled soul and Matt, her rescuer.
Of particular interest are the family histories of Casey and Matt. Matt’s father is a workaholic who was abandoned by his wife. He tells Matt and the younger siblings that Mom deserted the family. Matt knows differently and is suspicious of his father. Casey’s father is a strict disciplinarian who does not know how to deal with his daughter’s lifestyle. Her mother appears to be a grown-up, repressed icon of Casey. The screenplay writer develops these relationships so that the audience empathizes with Casey and Matt.
Teenagers see the movie for several reasons. Primarily, they are lured by the popular stars, Chris O’Donnell and Drew Barrymore. Why do they like the movie? Most teens say that they can identify with the characters. One 16-year-old girl remarked, “I sometimes wish I could run away like they did!” Another motive for viewing the movie is the soundtrack which included songs by popular music groups.
Much appeal for the film emerges from the life and story of Drew Barrymore. Having gained fame from her childhood role in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.”, her life has been roller coaster railed with drugs, alcoholism, and other numerous problems. She returned to the film industry via sexual and edgy roles in recent movies including “Poison Ivy”, “Guncrazy”, and “Boys on the Side”. As her public life has unfolded, many teenagers who remember “E.T.” from their childhood are now dealing with their own issues; these young people are enthralled with Drew’s life. This movie resonates with teenagers because it mirrors many issues of Drew’s own story. Barrymore is estranged from her now homeless father, and he hasn’t communicated with her in years. Drew and her mother have not talked in several years. Drew has been hospitalized for attempting suicide. At the age of fifteen, she filed papers to emancipate herself from her parents. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, she acknowledges the telling symbolism of the movie: “My character goes into an institution, and her brain starts to deteriorate…How many other…actresses can relate to that?…I can!” (1995, June, p. 70)
Resources addressed for this topic discussion include the following:
- (1995, June). Mad love. The Film Journal, 98(5), p. 42.
- (1995, June 15). Wild thing. Rolling Stone, 710, p. 70.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- How much of what happens in “Mad Love” can your students relate to? Abandonment? Alienation? Running away? Loneliness?
- Are your students interested in Drew Barrymore’s life? If so, why does her tragic story interest them?
- How do your students your students see Casey and Matt’s running away as an answer to their problems?
- How can a youth worker help a student, like Casey, who struggles with depression? What is a your role in helping students who have medical, emotional, or psychological needs?
The popularity of “Mad Love” is not surprising. It raises important questions about teenagers. Their interest in and understanding of the film’s characters reveals much about their own feelings of alienation and loneliness. The fantasy of running away intrigues today’s teens. (It should be noted that Casey and Matt do return, and Casey is admitted to a hospital after a tearful good-bye.) “Mad Love” lends itself to discussion about teen feelings of loneliness and alienation. Throughout the movie, Casey and Matt talk and ask each other questions that could easily be used in a group discussion.
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