When 17 year-old Lyle brutally beats up a classmate with a baseball bat, he is sent to a juvenile mental institution. On the ward, he finds himself among other seemingly average kids who are struggling to overcome problems.
Films such as Girl, Interrupted have shown just how difficult it is to make a convincing portrayal of young people with mental problems. This is why director Jordan Melamed's Manic is such a surprising and affecting achievement.
Anyone stumbling into the cinema halfway through would think they were watching a documentary, as Manic dispenses with all cinematic flourishes, instead aiming for and achieving absolute realism.
This is done partly thanks to it being shot with fluid intimacy on digital cameras which filmed the actors constantly while they were on set, never letting them come out of character.
The performances from the young cast are raw and incredibly brave; through improvisation with writers Michael Bacall and Blayne Weaver (both of whom also act in the film), their characters come completely to life. Even Gordon-Levitt, aka Tommy from Third Rock From The Sun, breaks the shackles of his pretty boy image.
Manic is a compelling picture, not just of mental illness, but of the disaffected youth of America.