Prozac Nation


Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Prozac NationProzac Nation (2001)was delayed in release probably because it frightened the distributors, & many of the test audiences didn't like to be batted around by something relentlessly downbeat. It never had a theatrical release at all, & was slow to arrive on DVD.

It is a painful film to watch, almost too well acted, with Christina Ricci recreating the downward spiral of drug abuse & clinical depression so realistically it makes one's toes curl & teeth clench to watch her suffering. The misery it heaps on the viewer has "not a commercial winner" written all over it.

Based on Elizabeth Wurtzel's bestselling autobiography of the same name, Prozac Nation unfolds the story of a troubled girl from a wildly dysfunctional family who scores a Harvard journalism grant, then is soon contacted by Rolling Stone when the editors see her music review of Lou Reed (who has a tiny appealing role in the film).

Life would seem to be all on the track to instant success for our pretty young genius, if only the boozing & drugging could've continued to mask a crippling enervating depression.

Prozac NationSupporting roles by a good cast are mostly first-rate, but the best of the best comes from Jessica Lange as Elizabeth's mother. She & Ricci take turns being bitches then being pitiful, & it's obvious that depression & out of control acting-out runs in the family. Ricci should be rightly proud that her own acting in no way pales alongside the brilliance of Lange.

This is not to say everything is perfect with the film, which falls far short of a work of art. Some of the most emotional scenes can seem like the hysterionics of an over-acted stage play attempting to appeal to the back of the theater.

Plus it is so talky with so many scenes of characters circling around one another that it looks like a badly directed stage-play with the only stage direction having been "Nobody stop walking around in circles while you deliver your lines."

There are some bad editing choices & the script is jumbled & there are moments when it looks like a "disease of the week" made-for-tv movie (or for cable so that Ricci gets to sit around naked). Even Lange, splendid an actor though she is, well, she is in her mid-50s & cannot seriously pass for the mother of a teenage daughter who was herself a single mom as a teenager -- it breaks viewer concentration when we realize Mom is supposedly in her late thirties but is actually old enough to have played the grandmother.

Prozac NationThen there's Jason Biggs as Ricci's boyfriend. He is not the equal of the rest of the cast, who shine down to the smallest role. Biggs character is from Texas but seems to be imitating Woody Allen, & that's putting a good spin on his dreadful acting.

When Elizabeth hightails it to Texas because she cannot bare to be away from her beau on the holidays, she sees her boyfriend interacting with his stressed-out family & his mentally ill sister. Elizabeth suddenly has paranoid "insights" as to why such a guy would be interested in her own nutty self, & so drives the final nail in her relationship's coffin by heightening a crisis.

It's psychologically pat, but the real problem is, Biggs' performance is completely devoid of power because he is playing it like a holier-than-thou Woody Allen character having dinner with his even-crazier-than-Woody family. Maybe that approach works for an inconsequential film like American Pie (1999) or for the couldn't-be-any-worse Anything Else (2003) where Woody Allen actually does cast Biggs as his own alter ego (opposite Christina Ricci coincidentally enough). But in general this guy should have his liscense to act revoked.

The ultimate "point" of the film seems schizophrenic because there's an overtly stated message that we live in a Prozac nation with millions of people on psychotropic drugs, far more than could possibly be clinically depressed, & the local drugstore we're informed is really just another kind of crackhouse. But at the same time Elizabeth was a doomed appalling basketcase without Prozac, & became magically functional with it, so the film plays like an extended advertisement for Prozac.

This schizophrenia extends to Elizabeth's character, as she was clearly boozing & drugging to mask her mental illness & had few qualms about drugging herself, but when it comes to prescription drugs, she rebels. Message-wise it's murky bad politics, but acting-wise we have some fine work in this film.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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