‘The Year Between’ Review: An Easygoing Breakdown

In this warm dramedy, a family works together to create a stable routine after their college-age daughter is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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By Teo Bugbee

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An emerging performer and filmmaker, Alex Heller wrote, directed and stars in “The Year Between” as Clemence Miller, a college sophomore whose erratic behavior gets her booted from school. As a dropout, Clemence returns to her family home in suburban Illinois, under the care of her exasperated but loving parents, Sherri and Don (played endearingly by J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi.)

Sherri drags her daughter to psychiatric consultations, and there, Clemence is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From this moment of clarity, the film develops into a semi-autobiographical and engaging view of what it’s like for a bellicose youth to adjust to a new mental health diagnosis.

Clemence begins new medication, fine-tuning her dosage through trial and error. Her new routine means abstaining from drugs and alcohol, as well as learning new exercise and mindfulness practices. Clemence also has to adapt to moving back in with her family, and she wrestles with the financial reality of working rather than attending university. With so much unappealing change on her plate, Clemence isn’t interested in being a model patient. Her adjustment period includes an impromptu head-shaving, sibling feuds and a fling with an introverted drug dealer.

Yet the film is sympathetic to Clemence’s two-steps-forward, one-step-back approach to stability. Heller uses color and production design to establish a warm tone around her occasionally manic protagonist. She creates frames packed with texture, incorporating plush and unpretentious furniture into rooms already cluttered with knickknacks and discarded dishes. Her film’s palette is saturated, lending a glow to characters’ faces even in moments of dysfunction.

This lived-in quality to the filmmaking supports equally relaxed performances from both veteran and emerging actors, making for an even-keeled and easy viewing experience.

The Year Between
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.

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