Lisa, Bright and Dark (1973)

lisa bright and dark 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen has mental illness.

Based on the acclaimed novel by John Neufeld the story centers on Lisa (Kay Lenz) a teenage girl who begins behaving in strange ways. She feels that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness and asks her parents (John Forsythe, Anne Baxter) if she can see a psychiatrist, but they refuse as they were raised in an era where mental illness was considered a ‘character flaw’ that didn’t occur to ‘respectable’ people and psychiatry was still thought of as a ‘new-age’ type of practice. Her friends (Debralee Scott, Jamie Smith-Jackson, and Anne Lockhart) think differently and try to get her the help that she needs, but when that fails they then read up on psychotherapy themselves and try to help Lisa with their own brand of therapy.

This film, which aired on NBC in November of 1973 as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, was critically acclaimed at the time, but it has not aged well. I applaud the effort at trying to destigmatize the myth of psychiatry, but the drama often times comes off as strained and unintentionally funny. The sappy songs by Rod McKuen are abysmal and enough to drive the viewer as batty as the main character.

I found it strange how enlightened Lisa’s teen friends were about mental illness and wasn’t quite sure that I bought into it. I would think they would be just as confused and frightened of Lisa’s behavior as the adults and maybe try to stay away from her completely. Seeing how sympathetic Lisa’s classmates are to her condition is nice, but not realistic. At that age I would imagine some of the teens would ostracize and mock Lisa while considering her some sort of ‘freak’ and the film would’ve been better balanced had at least shown briefly some of that, which it doesn’t. The idea that these girls could read a few books by Sigmund Freud and then be able to perform psychotherapy is laughable and the whole thing would’ve been better served had it taken place in a college setting as the students all look college-aged anyways and the plot would’ve been more believable because it could’ve had her working with students or interns that were majoring in psychiatry.

The film never bothers to give any type of explanation for Lisa’s issues nor any inkling as to whether she was able to find some sort of adjustment through medication or therapy. It all seems like an excuse to promote the acceptance of psychiatry to the mainstream and not about the main character at all, which makes it come off as a thinly veiled ‘message movie’ and nothing more.

Lenz, who for a time was married to singer/actor David Cassidy, does well in the title role, but I didn’t care much of her toothy smile. It is fun seeing Anson Williams and Erin Moran in supporting roles as they both later became cast members to the long running TV-show ‘Happy Days’. Richard Stahl also appears as the father of one of the girls, but has his voice dubbed for some reason, which was quite strange.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 28, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Studio: Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions

Available: DVD (Out-of-print)

One response to “Lisa, Bright and Dark (1973)

  1. I read the book when I was a teenager; don’t remember much about it now. I didn’t know it was made into a movie! (well, a Hallmark movie, but still…) Sounds like it was nothing to write home about. Good review! 🙂

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