June 06, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B

To watch Girl, Interrupted is to witness a series of unintended thespian hijackings. There’s star (and executive producer) Winona Ryder at the starting gate, wanly shell-shocked as Susanna Kaysen, an upper-middle-class teenager consigned to a mental institution during the late 1960s. Ryder turns in her subtlest work in some time — you can see the character’s fear of reality float across the inside of those headlamp eyes — but it’s no match for Angelina Jolie’s charismatic brand of ”wham bam thank you ma’am.” When Jolie’s sociopathic bombshell arrives at Claymoore, you simply aren’t able to watch anyone else — which may explain Ryder’s tight-lipped smile when her costar won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar last March — at least until Vanessa Redgrave turns up, discreetly riveting as a psychiatrist.

Though it’s based on Kaysen’s 1993 memoir, James Mangold’s adaptation gets mired in snake-pit clichés, and Jolie’s performance ultimately crashes and burns in a climactic hissy fit that plays like the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West. At that point, Ryder regains control and sees the movie through with tensile hesitancy. The character survives; that the actress does too makes ”Girl” even more quietly affecting.

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