Manic is distinguishable from its predecessors in the field of movies about the denizens of mental institutions by its lack of therapeutic breakthroughs, and that's all to the good. None of the troubled young patients in director Jordan Melamed's indie cuckoo's nest fly away on lofty insights, and the staff shrink (Don Cheadle) is no god (but no monster, either). There's something modern and psychologically honest in the way violent Lyle (''3rd Rock From the Sun'''s Joseph Gordon-Levitt), self-hating Tracy (Zooey Deschanel, attempting to hide her radiance), and bipolar Chad (Michael Bacall, who also cowrote the script with Blayne Weaver) improve so little during their time together in lockup. Yet even when encouraged to riot, the actors -- particularly Gordon-Levitt -- smartly avoid playing Crazy Types.
There's something already exhausted, however, in the intrusively gauzy, wobbly, blurry, zoomy digital-video look of the piece. I'm guessing the art photography is meant to signify a fragile state; instead, it suggests an attention disorder to which camcorder-wielding filmmakers are dismayingly susceptible.