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Film / David and Lisa

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David and Lisa is a 1962 drama from the husband-and-wife team of Frank Perry (director) and Eleanor Perry (writer), based on Lisa and David, a story by psychiatrist Theodore Isaac Rubin inspired by actual patients.

David Clemens (Keir Dullea) is a brilliant-but-troubled high school student, suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder so severe he's afraid that he'll die if someone else touches him. His mother sends him to a residential treatment facility for teens, where he's placed under the care of understanding psychiatrist Dr. Alan Swinford (Howard Da Silva). David's anti-social nature and aloof personality leads most of the facility's other residents to leave him alone, but one other patient starts initiating contact with him: Lisa Brandt (Janet Margolin). Lisa is one of the home's most extreme cases. She suffers from heavy schizophrenia. She only talks in rhymes, when she talks. Much of the time she transforms into Muriel, an alter ego who can only communicate through writing.


Through his time spent with Lisa and his sessions with Dr. Swinford, David starts to show progress in dealing with his anxieties, but all that work threatens to become unraveled when his overbearing mother and ineffectual father decide to bring him back home.

One of the first American independent films to garner both critical acclaim and financial success (it earned $2 million on a $185,000 budget), David and Lisa earned Academy Award nominations for directing and screenplay, and brought overnight attention to Dullea and Margolin. It was later adapted into a stage play by James Reach, and in 1998 Oprah Winfrey produced a made-for-TV remake starring Lukas Haas and Brittany Murphy.


Tropes! Tropes! Hopes! Hopes!:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Rubin's story focuses mainly on the interactions between David and Lisa; the film gives them more of a backstory and adds a dramatic third act. Still, much of the dialogue is taken straight from the story.
  • Berserk Button: David becomes downright furious if anyone even so much as touches him by accident.
  • Constantly Curious: Lisa, who's very childlike in how she interacts with other people.
  • Creator Cameo: Frank Perry as the newsstand owner who gets mad at Lisa when she takes a magazine without paying.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: David's early sessions with Dr. Swinford generally turn into this on David's part.
  • Freud Was Right: The film's suggestion that David's issues are caused by his domineering mother reflects a popular line of psychiatric thinking at the time that's now considered very outdated. Also there's the implication that Lisa has a deep longing for a normal family life.
  • Hates Being Touched: David's most obvious issue.
  • In the Style of...: At times it feels like an Americanized take on Ingmar Bergman's early films.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Lisa sort of acts as one for David, though in this case "manic" is much more literal than figurative. On the other hand, David helps shake up her world in his own way.
  • Mysterious Waif: How Lisa is introduced to us.
  • Name and Name: Obviously.
  • Nightmare Sequence: David's recurring "clock execution dream".
  • OOC Is Serious Business: The ending, Lisa stops talking in rhyme, and David allows her to touch him, both showing that they've grown as people and are willing to confront their deepest fears.
  • The Ophelia: Lisa. Beautiful, mysterious, and completely off her rails.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Lisa, and David when he talks to her.
  • Split Personality: Lisa and Muriel. Lisa's breakthrough comes when she realizes that Lisa and Muriel are one and the same.
  • Straight Gay: Simon, one of the home's other residents, is an early film example.
  • Super OCD: David clearly has this.
  • Talkative Loon: Lisa. The original story even uses the term "word salad" to describe some of her nonsensical rhyming (though she notably becomes more coherent when she starts talking to David).
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: David, who even confronts Lisa's therapist with his own treatment recommendations for her.


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