Review: Emma Stone and Jonah Hill get weird and wonderful in Netflix’s ‘Maniac’

At times, it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on in “Maniac.” But it’s better that way.

The beautifully crafted and strongly acted miniseries (streaming Friday, ★★★½ out of four) stars Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as two damaged young people who seek answers in a pharmaceutical trial. That all sounds relatively normal until the show starts adding in other pieces, such as a modern world with 1980s technology, sentient and sad computers and fantasy sequences that run the gamut from a lemur heist to a 1920s seance. 

It’s a melting pot of genres, styles and stories that values atmosphere and emotion over plot and sense, but this mishmash is what gives “Maniac” its charm. The details may get lost in the shuffle, but every scene in “Maniac” feels right. Show developers Patrick Somerville and Cary Fukunaga turn the confusing into the illuminating as they probe the minds of Owen and Annie (Hill and Stone), who are just trying to find their identities. 

Despite its serious subject matter, the series is playful and hopeful. “Maniac” treats Annie and Owen’s mental health concerns as worlds to be explored. The show is surprisingly engaging, and its episodes, none of which are longer than 45 minutes with some less than 30, zip by as you race to find the same answers Annie and Owen seek. 

Owen is the youngest son of a wealthy family, and he has been plagued for years by hallucinations and other mental health issues, drawing him to the drug trial. He desperately wants a normal life but can’t hold down a job and is wrapped up in his family drama, most recently allowing himself to be manipulated into agreeing to lie at his brother’s (Billy Magnussen) upcoming court proceedings.

Annie cons her way into the study because she became addicted to one of the drugs involved after suffering a loss. When the trial begins, the pair is drawn together both in real life and in the elaborate fantasies created in the patients’ minds by the pills.

The researchers in the study, led by Justin Theroux in a fabulously terrible hairpiece, are testing three drugs they believe will magically solve all mental health disorders. As you might imagine, things get a bit messy.  

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