Review: ‘Maniac,’ a Netflix limited series

October 12, 2018

A 10-episode limited Netflix series starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, “Maniac” primarily follows two characters’ experiences in an eerily familiar yet dystopian therapy drug trial.

Annie Landsberg and Owen Milgrim have opted into a program that will administer three pills – A, B and C – that will work towards achieving pure, unbridled joy and happiness.

Throughout their time in the trial, they deal with both the complications and realizations that arise from everything from family dynamics to drug addiction. But at its core, the series is a thematically vibrant dive into the worlds of AI healthcare, modern relationships and mental health.

If that sounds like a weird hodgepodge of components to combine all in all, that’s because it is. But that oddity is only emphasized (and complimented) by its stylized direction.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga blends elements reminiscent of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Inception” to achieve a visually stunning series.

Simple yet dramatic camera agitation is used to “physically” get into the mind of Owen while he is having a difficult time dealing with the stress of his emotions, sense of reality and mental illness.

What did the production team do to replicate Annie and Owen battling inner demons? They staged an entire James Bond-esque escape scene, obviously.

There’s even a fantasy sequence akin to Lord of the Rings were Annie has to protect her younger sister across a treacherous journey to safety and health – which lines up with her real-life desires.

“Maniac” mastered this idea of using literal ideas to portray the emotional and intangible concepts.

Yes, this does provide some weird (and sometimes slightly uncomfortable) scenes at times, but the beauty in those shots triumphed in carrying the plot from episode to episode.

Simultaneously in line with all of Annie and Owen’s drug-induced escapades, there is a second plot line of the scientists and researchers who are responsible for the technology behind the pills.

The interactions and actions of Dr. Robert Muramoto, Dr. Azumi Fujita and Dr. James K. Mantleray weave in and out of focus, giving the show a taste of the ethics and considerations behind such an experiment. However, the mechanics and science behind the drug trial have quintessential human origins and motives that bring those characters right along on the emotional, therapy-ridden story.

Additionally, Sally Fields – yes, that Sally Fields – even has a guest role playing a world-renown therapist who helps more than just her books’ readers.

In the end, this interweaving, deep and intricate story takes place seemingly impossibly throughout only a three-day span. The blending of fiction and reality bring the characters and viewers alike into a world that is simultaneously unnervingly familiar yet strikingly unknown, and that is one of the strongest attractions into the show.

When the 10 episodes are over, “Maniac” leaves many impressions, but a few words emerge at the top of the list: mind-bending, heartwarming and captivating.

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