Jonah Hill and Emma Stone Solve the Riddle of the Mind in ‘Maniac’

Four years after ‘True Detective,’ Cary Fukunaga returns to TV with this mysterious battle of wills.
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By  · Published on July 30th, 2018

Four years after ‘True Detective,’ Cary Fukunaga returns to TV with this mysterious battle of wills.

Four years ago, Cary Fukunaga stole all our attention with True Detective. We removed ourselves from our lives so that we could devote our time to cracking the code of that series. What did it all mean? The answer was never going to be as fun as the question, or the quest to answer it.

Having stumbled in bringing his version of Stephen King’s IT to the big screen, and before gearing up to direct Jake Gyllenhaal in a Leonard Bernstein biopic, Fukunaga has returned to a streaming platform. Maniac is based on a Norwegian television series from 2014 and will drop its 10 episodes on September 21st via Netflix. As he did with True Detective, he’s packing his frame with two enticing performers.

What appears below is mysterious to the point of obtuse, but to deny its infectious quality would be a lie.

Give me a room and two actors. That’s all I need. Plot, set dressing, cinematography, just flourish around the elements charged with manipulating my empathy. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone sitting across from each other, locked in a staring contest to end all staring contests. I’m sold.

Netflix does not have to do the heavy lifting. They already have our money. That’s a blessing. The result of their domination over other mediums and rival companies is that they can embrace the artistic in advertising their acquisitions. Netflix can go curious where others have to explode small nations to gain our attention.

The unseen narrator in the trailer assures us that once the structure of the mind is understood, then we can begin to change ourselves for the better. What do the former Superbad co-stars want to change about themselves? There are no clues here, but they seem pretty serious about it.

The official synopsis of Maniac gives us a few more details, but not many. The world seen here is somewhat like our own, during a similar period in time. Stone is Annie Landsberg, and Hill is Owen Milgrim. They are two strangers participating in a mysterious pharmaceutical trial.

Owen may be battling schizophrenia while Annie cannot contemplate why all her familial relationships are broken. They are two aimless souls looking for meaning, and the possibility that purpose could be found through medication is attractive. Enter Dr. James K. Manterlay (Justin Theroux) and his cure-all sequence of pills. The good doctor claims that he can repair the mind of mental illness or heartbreak. He just needs your time and your desire for change.

As a species, we’re desperate for improvement. We throw our money at self-help books, seminars, and prescription drugs. Life can be better, but we struggle to make it happen.

In this teaser, while neither actor says a word, I sense the quality of antagonism. The staring contest is only the first stage in the warfare of self-improvement. Who wants it more? Hill vs. Stone. Is Fukunaga overseeing a medical trial or a social experiment? Drop a pill between the two, and they’ll claw each other’s eyes out to attain emotional advancement.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)