High style and substance collide in Netflix’s limited series, Maniac. From creator Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers) and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, True Detective), Maniac explores the ravages of the mind and the possible restoration of the same. Complicated family ties must be unraveled while mental illness and issues of intense loneliness and unhappiness are tackled.

The question is, how much attention is paid to those core issues as opposed to the sumptuous, visual feast we are served on a trippy platter?

maniac netflix

Set in New York City, “in a time quite similar to our time,” Maniac stars Emma Stone as Annie Landsberg, a desperately unhappy soul trying to fight her way back from tragedy. Jonah Hill plays Owen Milgrim, a young man hailing from a decadently wealthy Manhattan family. Possibly schizophrenic, Owen’s mental illness pushes him away from his perfectly manicured brothers and father, Porter (Gabriel Byrne).

Owen and Annie are desperate for relief, taking part in a pharmaceutical trial with such lofty promises as curing mental illness and clearing the mind of unhappiness with the pop of a few powerful pills. The questionable program was created by Dr. James Mantleray, played brilliantly by Justin Theroux, whose gifts of persuasion deserve some sort of trophy. Fukunaga soars visually as he transports us into the altered mind and alternate realities. The immersive experience draws the viewer in and grabs hold, a credit to a director who is eager to take risks, employing a go big or go home approach.

Effectively mining the human condition is a difficult thing and Fukunaga’s New York teems with lost souls, barreling past each other in search of something greater.

Stone gives an effortless and flawless performance as Annie, bringing emotional heft and vulnerability when needed, making you root for a character whose fragility endears her to you. Stone also brings a sometimes haunting, sometimes dark twist to the more dreamy set ups with some lighter moments in a winning turn that is award-worthy. Jonah Hill is also effective as Owen, exposing his emotional and mental wounds believably. As the four walls of Owen’s life close in, Hill triumphs.

All things considered, Maniac succeeds in taking on the existential questions of life, but it is Fukunaga’s visuals that make the show a must-see, that, and one Emma Stone.



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