Veronika Decides to Die

2015 - 103 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: Emily Young

Written by: Larry Gross, Roberta Hanley

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jonathan Tucker, David Thewlis, Erika Christensen, Melissa Leo

After failing to cause any type of stir during the festival rounds in 2009, Veronika Decides to Die was buried. I’m sure it wasn’t any worse six years ago than it is now upon its unearthing. Director Emily Young’s hammy adaptation of Paulo Coelho’s novel is presented as lucid, life-affirming inspiration, but comes off as stale twaddle.

The movie opens with a voiceover from Veronika (Sarah Michelle Gellar) that’s relatable, and actually quite well-written. The 20-something corporate drone wistfully laments the boredom and joylessness of a mapped-out life, from a well-paying though soul-crushing office job to unhappy marriage and a hazy existence full or regrets. It’s all downhill from there.

Veronika has the soul-crushing job, and decides she wants out of life’s prison before the marriage, et all. After downing copious amounts of booze and pills as Radiohead (what else?) blares in the background, she wakes up in a mental institution headed by perpetually straight-faced Dr. Alex Blake (David Thewlis). Immediately after she comes to, Veronika is told that her suicide attempt caused damage to her heart and she only has weeks (at best) to live. Instead of asking to live out her precious few remaining days on her terms, Veronika submits to psychiatric treatment – which, of course, is pretty pointless in her dire case. Also, she gets to hang with wacky roommate Claire (Erika Christensen), observe longtime patient Mari (Melissa Leo), and share stares with handsome mute guy Edward (Jonathan Tucker). What better way to go into that good night?

None of this leads to organic breakthroughs or self-discovery, though Gellar discovers quite a bit of herself when she plays a beautiful piece on the hospital piano and then strips down and masturbates on the bench, all as Edward watches. This is probably supposed to be freeing or something because, you see, Veronika had a scholarship to Julliard, but traded that avenue for the more stable career path favored by her parents. It’s really just embarrassing for all involved, as is the movie as a whole.

There are allusions to the questionable practices of Dr. Blake, some strange “treatments” that involve injections for seemingly any malady, goofy metaphors about kings and wizards relayed by a frantic Claire, and a mysterious sketch book that Edward scratches in. None of these, or any other of the numerous contrivances, mean anything. Worst of all is a final swerve regarding Dr. Blake’s methods that you’ll probably see coming and is handled even worse than imagine it’ll be. All you have to do is pay attention to the looks given by the doctor’s right-hand woman in a few key scenes – her only scenes that I remember. She exists only for the stares that Young comically lingers on.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Edward eventually speaks (why else would he be mute to being with?), or that he and Veronika form a bond. I guess she just needed a strong, (mostly) silent type to shake her from her fog. What he says and what they do, however, has little to do with their actual characters and everything to do with playing out plot necessities before the final cliché. It’s ironic that this corny exercise masquerading as a message movie preaches that we should face each day with hope and make the most of our time, because Veronika Decides to Die does nothing other than waste nearly two hours of our lives.

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