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"Call Me Crazy" shows the mentally ill are just like you

In the midst of the gun regulation debate, mental illness, fairly or unfairly, has become a focal point. So "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film" (8 tonight, Lifetime) arrives at a fortuitous time. As much about mental illness as it is about mental health, the five short films seek to offer understanding of the issue from different vantage points.

There's plenty of star power, in front and behind the cameras, to help make the points. (Jennifer Aniston is one of the executive producers) The first short, directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, introduces "Lucy" (Brittany Snow), a law student battling schizophrenia and losing, mostly because she can't accept that she has it. She ends up in an institution, where she makes a new friend (Jason Ritter) and gets encouragement from a psychotherapist (Octavia Spencer).

Next is the story of "Grace" (Sarah Hyland), a college-bound teen dealing with a mother (Melissa Leo) who has bipolar disorder. If you've read "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls, it will seem quite familiar.

"Allison" (Sofia Vassilieva) is the free-spirited younger sister of Lucy; in this chapter, Allison is bringing home her new boyfriend to meet her parents (Jean Smart and Richard Gilliland) on the same weekend Lucy returns home from inpatient treatment. Laura Dern directs.

In "Eddie," directed Bonnie Hunt, stars Mitch Rouse, a comedian with severe depression in a story told through the eyes of his wife (Lea Thompson). Dave Foley, Chelsea Handler and James Avery appear.

The Ashley Judd directed final chapter belongs to "Maggie" (Jennifer Hudson), a vet returning from war to her young son and her father (Ernie Hudson) who suffers from PTSD.

The emphasis here is on simply making clear that mental illness is treatable and that the people who live with it shouldn't be dismissed as less than human because of our fears or lack of understanding. Compassion is warranted. "Allison" explores the toll of living with someone with a mental illness; Lucy's character shows us that mental illness can be something you live with, not just suffer from.

It's not a contest but I'd say "Allison" is the most successful short. It's a nice mix of humor and drama; Vassilieva and the always good Smart add layers to their characters that make them feel real. Melissa Leo is also a standout as a mother who is delightful, funny, sad and frightening. You have to love Leo's lack of vanity; I mean, besides sometimes going without makeup, she wears animal print leggings.

"Call Me Crazy" is a mental illness primer; if you've encountered any of these conditions or even read about them, you won't be getting new information. But there's still a lot of confusion about what constitutes a mental condition and there's still fear mongering. Maybe some star power will help spark a more tempered response.

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