ENTANGLEMENT Review: The Tragedy Of The Empathetic Comedy

Subverting so hard you subvert yourself.

Making a comedy about mental illness is a really dangerous tightrope to walk. There are so many ways that such an attempt can fall victim to tactlessness or trope-driven prejudice when addressing issues that affect those with psychological disorders. And with how predominant and predominantly misunderstood mental illnesses are in the popular culture, odds are that a creator may not have the necessary grasp of the subject to make jokes that don’t punch down at a victimized and persecuted group. Entangled at first seems to walk that tightrope decently well, even if not exactly making for the most exciting film in the process, but by the third act it takes a hard tumble, sapping that good will away before finally hitting the bottom in its failed attempt at empathy.

We open to a montage of our protagonist Ben (Thomas Middleditch, looking very sleepy) trying to kill himself in various ways, only to be thwarted by a ring of the doorbell he feels obliged to answer. Soon after, he discovers his father mid-heart attack, who tells Ben that he has a near-sibling, a girl that Ben’s parents would have adopted had they not realized they were pregnant with Ben. Ben decides to track down this near-sister to potentially find meaning in his depressed life, and so he meets Hanna (Jess Wexler), a free spirit who challenges Ben to pull himself out of his depression and find happiness.

On paper, this sounds like a fairly generic Manic Pixie Dream Girl plot, and in many ways that isn’t entirely inaccurate; a large part of the story adheres to the misogynistic implications of the trope, namely that it’s a woman’s responsibility to fix our male lead and lead him to happiness. However, both parties are clearly dealing with some level of mental instability, and the fond support they find in one another makes for a surprisingly sweet relationship. The comedy can at times be a bit morose, particularly because the film has an odd preoccupation with treating death as lackadaisically as possible, but there’s a rhythm to the proceedings that would have made the film borderline recommendable on charm alone.

This is, of course, until a third act twist that sends the whole plot spiraling out of the realm of merely being problematic to being wholly offensive. The twist is asinine enough that I’m ashamed I didn’t see it coming, but credit is due in that it has an obvious aim toward subverting that Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. However, it does so by leaning so hard into the mental illness angle that it not only completely misrepresents how depression manifests, but it also heavily implies that mental illness is something that one can just get over, as if delving deep into one’s neurological malfunctions can somehow lead to wellness on the other side. That’s a dangerous message to be peddling that completely undermines the sympathy the film thinks it portrays.

Entanglement isn’t a tremendous fall from grace, as its greatest accomplishments are still fairly middling, and the comedy never quite transcends the pervading cynicism. However, what might have been a light recommendation is made rather definitively garbage by an ending that aims for subversion but ultimately butts up against a harsh reality. Mental illness is not a matter to be taken lightly, so if you’re going to be making jokes about it, make sure those jokes are informed by the gravity of the subject. Otherwise you risk alienating the very people you’re trying to help.