It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Jeff Lipsky's "Mad Women" is a series of interminable monologues, two or three per scene. Characters sit around, even during tense confrontations, and listen to each other talk without interruption. The actors feel at sea in a torrent of words. The plot of "Mad Women" is ridiculous, unmotivated and "shocking," but that wouldn't be an issue at all if there had been some attempt at style, or mood, or a point of view.
The Smith family is a piece of work. There's mom Harper (Christina Starbuck), who has done jail time for conspiracy to commit murder (she planned to kill a domestic terrorist responsible for attacks on abortion clinics), and is now running for mayor of her town on an insane platform involving getting rid of the post office, bulldozing cemeteries and seceding from the nation. There's dentist dad Richard (Reed Birney), jailed for statutory rape (the rape took place in the bathroom at a Jackson Browne concert, while he was high on LSD). They have three daughters: one died at the age of 3, the other lives abroad working with Doctors Without Borders, and the middle child, Nevada (Kelsey Lynn Stokes), is a post-grad, living at home, reading, playing tennis and wreaking sexual havoc.
Otto (Eli Percy) leers at Nevada from afar while she plays tennis. Finally, one day, she confronts him about it. She punches him in the stomach. He punches her right back and she falls to the ground. Then they go out for coffee. Then they go home and have sex. Then they start dating. None of this is convincing in any way whatsoever. Their performances are stilted and awkward. It's painful to watch.
The title seems to suggest that every woman in the film is "mad" in some way or other. What does madness mean to Lipsky? It's unclear. There's Harper, whose nutty political campaign speech punctuates the entire film. She seems off her rocker, but her audience laughs and nods in approval. There's Nevada's one-eyed grandmother devoted to archery, despite her lack of peripheral vision. Nevada has no boundaries, and tells her therapist in a flirty way that she is "shallow": she remembers playing in a bathtub with 5 other children when she was a kid: "I was shallow ... in the shallow end of the tub," she concludes (an example of the overwritten script).