When writers and directors make autobiographical films, it’s sometimes best to take things with a grain of salt. Details may be changed, actions embellished, character traits get their volume turned way up, beyond what normal reactions would be. With Crazy Eyes the audience might question whether co-writer/director Adam Sherman isn’t exaggerating his own vices, because there’s plenty to be found. Sherman’s portrayal of what might best be described as a dark period of his life will likely leave audiences asking some uncomfortable questions about the director and his willingness to put such a period on-screen.
Zach (Lukas Haas) is divorced, with a five-year-old son and plenty of money, living in Los Angeles. He literally has women at his beck and call, but his current fixation is Rebecca (Madeline Zima), whom he calls “Crazy Eyes,” who’s perfectly willing to go out under the auspices of visiting an art exhibition, knowing full well it’s actually going to end up at Zach’s favorite dive bar, where his friend Dan Drake (Jake Busey) is likely to over-serve them both. What makes Rebecca different, however, is what doesn’t happen. Unlike the other women in his life, she’s able to resist his sexual advances, whether by pointing out she has a boyfriend or by stubbornly fighting off his more than half-drunk advances. Meanwhile, the rest of Zach’s life is a mess. He’s largely absent from his young son’s life, aside from occasional visits on holidays or when his parents are looking to see their grandson. Zach also has to fend off some not so subtle-moves from other women while his sights remain firmly set on Rebecca. Unfortunately, none of these things require him to stop his heavy drinking, which is becoming a nightly occurrence, and he and Dan are often accosted in the bar, leading to violence. After his father (Ray Wise) suffers a stroke, he jets off to New York with Rebecca, partly as the kind of romantic gesture he hopes will finally get her into bed, but also to break things off with a particularly clingy flame in Brooklyn. However, when things don’t go as planned, Zach returns home and finally starts to reevaluate his life after things spiral further down for both he and “Crazy Eyes.”
Haas has been a working actor since he was a child, and his experience comes through in a very challenging role. Zach isn’t necessarily the easiest person to have to play, as he can be at times manipulative, misogynistic, contemplative and self-destructive. In very few moments of the story is Zach particularly likable, but Haas at the very least makes him a compelling character to watch on-screen. And you must admire the honesty of the writers of the film, which also included Dave Reeves and Rachel Hardisty, along with Sherman. Sherman has stated that 98 percent of the film actually took place in a way that’s similar to what happens on-screen, and that he and his co-writers essentially wrote about their own experiences. That type of frank self-reflection can be admired no matter what form it takes. The film also looks good. It depicts a side of Los Angeles that’s somewhat familiar, but presents it in a frank and realistic way.
The problem with self-reflection, however, is that telling a truly compelling story gets lost. Zach presents Rebecca as someone special, someone different from all the other women throwing themselves at him. While it doesn’t seem she’s interested in him for money, unlike many of the others, the special qualities Zach seems to see don’t come across on-screen, making the audience far less invested in the relationship between the two characters, a relationship that’s at the heart of the movie. The other women in the film, honestly, are like cardboard cutouts, whether they be a shrewish mother, gold-digging succubae or stalker-exes. It’s not the most nuanced view of the way women might act around a character like Zach, and it seems like the introspection that went into other portions of the film was lacking when it came to its treatment of women in general. And there’s also the issue of having virtually no consequences for heavy drinking and drug use.
Crazy Eyes as a work of introspection, is a worthwhile attempt, but it really only scratches the surface. As a movie, it’s a little frustrating, though there are good performances. Sherman’s work up to this point has largely been culled from his own life. Perhaps an attempt to break outside it will yield better results in the future.