A Light Beneath Their Feet is a story about mental illness and how it affects a family. Taryn Manning and Madison Davenport as mother and daughter turn in impressive performances.
Taryn Manning, as Gloria the bipolar mother of high school senior Beth (Davenport) is particularly impressive. She wants her daughter around all the time and gets anxious when she isn’t there. Beth makes sure her mother takes her meds and watches out for her. The empathy and love between the two of them feels very real.
The main characters are portrayed as two ordinary people, struggling to do their best with what life has dealt them. There are some tropes used as short cuts in the plot – mean girls at school, psychiatrist’s troubled child, misunderstood outsider bad boy. But the journey from stable to manic that Gloria goes through is nuanced and thoughtful. It’s a window into mental illness that we seldom see in film.
Part of the journey to manic madness is because of a simple failure to get meds on time. Fixable. But the other part of it is that Gloria’s psychiatrist’s daughter (Maddie Hasson) is jealous of Beth going to the prom with Jeremy (Carter Jenkins). She calls the pharmacy and changes Gloria’s meds using her father’s ID number. Gloria goes off the rails as a result.
Gloria wants Beth to go to Northwestern after high school. It’s nearby. Beth wants to go to UCLA. She’s torn between needing to take care of her mother and striking out to build her own life. Her father (Brian King) left her mother because he couldn’t deal with her illness and Beth blames him for doing it. She’s having her first semi-romance with Jeremy while dealing with her mother’s increasingly obvious breakdown.
The title refers to a game that Beth and Jeremy play, imagining that the sun is inside the earth and the light comes from beneath your feet. When they dance at the prom they are beautifully lit from below.
Written by Moira McMahon and directed by Valerie Weiss, the film shines a light (though not from below) on mental illness. Very fine performances from Taryn Manning and Madison Davenport make it real. The two are wonderful together as each others favorite person, and they even look alike.
The writer, director and actors did considerable research into mental illness and how to portray it on the screen without stigma or judgement. Taryn Manning’s very physical representation of bipolar disorder was informed by that research.
You can watch the trailer in this earlier post.