FILM REVIEW: No Letting Go
A teenager struggles with mental illness as his mother fights to save him without losing the rest of the family.
Director: Jonathan D. Bucari
Cast: Cheryl Allison, Richard Burgi, Noah Silverman, David Schallipp
Review by Jean Wong
It is great to see that there are more films nowadays discussing mental health, and No Letting Go (2015) does so in a brilliantly touching manner that does bipolar disorder justice. There are many layers to mental illnesses, and this film delicately tackles them one by one.
The decision to tell the story from the mother’s point-of-view isn’t a whimsical one. No one really knows what’s going on in Timothy’s (David Schallipp; and later on Noah Silverman) head, and No Letting Go refuses to feed us the answers by situating us in the mother’s shoes. We are forced to figure out Tim’s mental illness together with Catherine (Cheryl Allison) as we journey with her throughout the movie.
Watching the story unfold from Catherine’s point-of-view makes a lot of sense when you take into consideration certain factors. Throughout the film, she is so caught up in trying to help Tim that she constantly neglects her two other sons — we never know what’s happening in their lives. The idea of Catherine being so consumed by helping Tim wouldn’t have come across as strongly if it had been filmed from her perspective. Neither would the impact of his mental illness on his family be translated properly.
What particularly worked for No Letting Go is the passage of time — mental illness often isn’t just a phase, but rather, a drawn-out process, and No Letting Go captures this idea appropriately. The set and art direction for this film also managed to reflect the debilitating effects of Tim’s mental illness. As he grows older and his condition worsens, the art direction turns darker and more bleak, reflecting Catherine’s state of mind. She has after all been trying to help Tim for years without much success, and this has taken a toll on her. Catherine’s best friend, Lisa (Alysia Reiner), also slowly loses touch — an unsettling reminder that mental illnesses can be isolating — not just for the patient but the family members as well.
Perhaps what made No Letting Go so utterly poignant is the fact that it is based on the true story of producer and co-screenwriter, Randi Silverman, whose child also struggles with bipolar disorder. The actor for adolescent Tim, Noah Silverman, is one of her children. Noah’s personal experience of having a family member diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have aided in his representation of Tim. It should also be said that the rest of the cast did a stellar job as well, drawing out an accurate interpretation of what it feels like to have a family member diagnosed with mental illness.
No Letting Go is, at its core, a heart-wrenching film that speaks volumes about mental illness. The family’s efforts to handle Tim’s unpredictable temperaments scenes would undoubtedly make you shed a tear or two and, hopefully, cast a new light on people struggling with mental illnesses. As Singapore Mental Health Film Festival’s (SMHFF) opening film, No Letting Go was a fitting choice to lead the discussion on mental health. We hope that SMHFF returns for future editions in order to continue to bring more awareness to mental health through educational and powerful films.