|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 05 July 2005|
There has to be an interesting behind-the-scenes story regarding “Prozac Nation.” The autobiographical novel by Elizabeth Wurtzel was a best seller in the early 90s, and actress Christina Ricci was an early and devoted fan. She worked hard to get the film made—she’s listed as an executive producer—and gives an intense, committed performance. She, or Miramax, made an unusual choice for director: the Norwegian Erik Skjoldbjærg, who hadn’t made a movie in English before.
The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2001 to mixed reviews. It opened in a few countries over the next couple of years—but went unseen in the United States. In fact, it became notorious for being unreleased to the point that jokes were made about its absence from theater screens. And then earlier this year, it did open—on cable TV. Now it’s out on a modest DVD.
If you even caught a whiff of the troubles that “Prozac Nation” encountered in getting shown to Americans, the audience it was made for (though it is a U.S.-German coproduction) you probably assumed that sheer rottenness is what kept the movie from being shown. The surprise is that “Prozac Nation” is an intelligent, well-made movie with some good performances.
But it’s very slow-moving, and Lizzie Wurtzel (Ricci), the central character, becomes so depressive and negative that much of the time, despite Ricci’s sincere performance, she’s damned near repellent. We see her treat decent people with contempt and suspicion; she destroys almost every relationship she has. We know it’s because her background—viciously quarreling parents who divorced when she was two—has left her an insecure, self-doubting, emotional wreck. Even her friends know this—but they are confronted with her bristling negativity.
She comes from a middle-class, Manhattan Jewish background; her chain-smoking mother (Jessica Lange) is jittery, quick to anger and tries to hide her vices from her old-fashioned parents. Lizzie hasn’t heard from her father (Nicholas Campbell) in four years, but is sure he’s been paying for her regular psychotherapy. As the movie opens, Lizzie is on her way to Harvard on a journalism scholarship that her mother fought for. Lizzie’s uncertain that she will work out at Harvard, but she’s (barely) willing to give it a try.
She quickly becomes close friends with her equally fish-out-of-water roommate Ruby (Michelle Williams), and almost immediately sells a major article on Lou Reed to Rolling Stone. (Reed even appears as himself.) Lizzie was something of an outsider at high school, too, and is a virgin until she ends up in the sack with a Harvard student, who also turns her on to drugs and alcohol. Things go downhill from there, “gradually and then suddenly,” as Lizzie says. In a men’s room while in a druggy haze, she meets friendly Rafe (Jason Biggs), and writes down his phone number, but they don’t get together.
Lizzie starts falling apart; Ruby does her best to stick with her, even though furious when she learns Lizzie had sex with HER boyfriend. Lizzie occasionally sees psychiatrist Dr. Sterling (Anne Heche), but at first refuses the doctor’s suggestion that she take anti-depressants. She has more screaming, blistering encounters with her mother, learns that unlike what she’s always believed her father has never paid a dime for her therapy and doesn’t really give much of a damn about her. She finally does call Rafe, and then fouls things up with him by following him to his Texas home.
The anti-depressants (hence the title) do begin having their leveling-off effect, but the movie ends with a much-improved Lizzie wondering if she’s just traded one kind of addiction for another. Are we so dependent on anti-depressants that we’re a Prozac nation?
Ricci was right in that her starring role is a good vehicle for her talents, but the story is all too much like many other films, most recently “Girl, Interrupted.” It has nothing new to say, no original insights to offer. It’s technically proficient and well acted, but also too slow and too familiar. The casting seems a little askew: though both deliver strong performances, it’s a little hard to accept Ricci and Lange as being Jewish—and Jason Biggs as a Texan who ISN’T Jewish.
The DVD has only one extra, an “Anatomy of a Scene” from the Sundance Channel. Surely someone could have been hauled into the Miramax offices to do a commentary track? The result is a disc that’s appropriate for rental but, unless you’re a demon Ricci fan, probably not worth buying. It’s not the kind of movie that, even if it were a lot better, you’d want to watch again and again.