A follow-up to Lifetime’s breast cancer-themed “Five,” the anthology “Call Me Crazy: A Five Film” presents five (!) short stories revolving around the theme of mental illness. Each story is named after a different character who is dealing with mental illness, either in themselves or in a loved one. Helmed by five different directors (Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sharon Maguire, Bonnie Hunt, and Ashley Judd), the episodes feature Jennifer Hudson, Brittany Snow, Melissa Leo and Octavia Spencer.

As an empathy delivery system, “Call Me Crazy” works, I guess. There is understanding aplenty for the situations involved, both for the ill and those who love them. There is effort to give dignity to the suffering of the mentally ill. There is exuberance in the form of manic shopping. I came out of my viewing with a slightly better understanding of schizophrenia, at least.

But as a film, a more accurate title would be “Call Me Insufferable.” With the exception of the short directed by Hunt, these stories are everything one could be forgiven for expecting from a Lifetime movie about mental illness, using railroad spikes where thumbtacks would do. Their glib shallowness is made all the more irritating because of their cozy sincerity, and an undeserved expectation to be taken seriously. The fact that these are, indeed, serious issues worthy of far better filmmaking kind of frosted my shorts, too.

The biggest problem is probably the format itself. The complexities of depression, say, are not well served by chapter-sized narratives. The format demands a short-hand style, reducing dialogue to public service pronouncements and characters to crayon outlines. This is a hobbling that no one involved has any idea how to overcome.

The heavy hand of each director doesn’t exactly help, though. Judd and Dern are particularly guilty of strident obviousness in their respective films– “Grace,” about a teenager dealing with her mother’s bi-polar disorder, and “Maggie,” about a female soldier (Jennifer Hudson) traumatized by PTSD after being raped by her commanding officer. Only Bonnie Hunt and writer Stephen Godchaux find a restrained tone that works, with her “Eddie” following a stand-up comic fighting depression with the help of his wife.

As the bi-polar mother, Melissa Leo gives a performance that goes over the top and keeps on climbing. Other cast members stand up and take their hacks, but don’t enjoy the same level of extravagant noticeability. Maybe if they had parceled out some of that freewheeling mania to the anemic leads in “Allison” and “Lucy,” everything could have worked out a little better.

The DVD for “Call Me Crazy” is Anamorphic Widescreen, with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Transfer is satisfying technically, and doesn’t call attention to the flavorless shooting style. There are options for subtitles in English, English SDH and French.

The audio track is 5.1 Dolby Digital, with an option for French.

There are no extras included on this disc.

Parting thoughts:
Just because it’s a movie for the Lifetime channel, it doesn’t get a free pass for being well-meaning. Heavy handed and obvious, “Call Me Crazy” is a grating and disheartening experience, made all the worse by its anthology format.