Pity poor Veronika Deklava (Sarah Michelle Gellar)—stuck in a soul-sapping Manhattan financial job, no personal life to speak of, morbidly depressed every hour of the day. She’d like to permanently check out of the rat race, so one particularly awful evening, it’s a handful of pills with a bottle-of-whiskey chaser. She awakes at an upstate New York mental hospital, where creepily soft-spoken psychiatrist Dr. Blake (David Thewlis) informs her that her botched suicide attempt caused an aneurysm in her heart. At best, she has a week to live, so she might as well spend the time in a crazy house populated with a bug-eyed cuckoo roommate (Erika Christensen, proving once again how she was robbed of an Oscar for Swimfan), a mute hunk (Jonathan Tucker) with a tragic past, and a mysteriously reserved woman (Melissa Leo) with her eyes on Thewlis’ prize.
Emily Young’s laughable adaptation of Paulo Coelho’s popular novel premiered on the festival circuit to crickets in 2009. Six years later, U.S. audiences finally get to see what all the non-fuss was about. It’s hard to pick only one representatively ridiculous moment in this campy brew. The pièce de résistance is probably the extended scene in which Gellar disrobes for Tucker’s character while she’s at the piano (miserable Veronika gave up her Juilliard scholarship at her parents’ insistence), and wildly masturbates. But there are plenty of other eye-rollers, too, like Christensen’s hilariously amateurish monologue about an insane king who makes his subjects drink from the same poisoned well and the final-minutes revelation of Thewlis’ unorthodox method of treatment—a groaner that might have been cooked up after a late-night bull session between Nicholas Sparks and M. Night Shyamalan.
The presence of Rainer Werner Fassbinder regular Barbara Sukowa as Veronika’s emotionally unstable mother makes one wonder what the New German Cinema master might have made of all this melodramatic silliness. Certainly it would have been more idiosyncratically unhinged and volatile, rather than cloaked in the noxious air of prestige that surrounds many a movie made from a flavor-of-the-month best seller. There’s never a moment when Young seems in control of her material, while the performers flail and flounder, trying to unearth some measure of truth in the hoariest plot twist. Viewers won’t decide to retch—that’ll be involuntary.
Veronika Decides To Die is available now on VOD.