Prozac Nation Movie Review
Adapted from Elizabeth Wurtzel's memoir (unread by me, and despite its bestseller status it seems to be almost universally disliked) of depression and dysfunction at Harvard, Nation casts the always-watchable Christina Ricci as the self-absorbed author. The film doesn't exactly have a story; it's more about Elizabeth using college to gauge the depths of her mental instability. She writes in binges for the school paper, introduces countless substances into her system, and embarks on destructive relationships and non-relationships. Ricci, it must be said, displays skill and gusto in the areas of binging, abuse, and destruction; she throws herself into the part, though what she gets in return is questionable.
It may be that this material was unworkable in terms of either insight or entertainment, though I have to believe with Ricci and Jessica Lange (playing Wurtzel's mother and screeching partner) around, the film could've at least been arrestingly unlikable, instead of just shrill. This is one of those movies where the more conventionally pleasant characters (played here by Jason Biggs and Michelle Williams) are forced to fade into the background after they're done time in their "island of sanity" roles. When the film allows a glimpse of the Biggs character's home and family life, we're startled to see he has one at all. The screenplay, however, rushes away from these complications in order to allot more time to Elizabeth visiting her therapist (Anne Heche).
This wouldn't be a problem if the filmmakers absorbed us in Elizabeth's world. There are a few feverish sequences of Ricci on writing jags that begin to develop a rapport with the audience; we see the buzz she gets from focusing on writing and ignoring everything else, and briefly we're there with Elizabeth through her ups and downs.
But those feelings grow cold. When Elizabeth attends a Lou Reed concert at Harvard in order to write a rhapsodic review that catches the eye of Rolling Stone, the movie has the gall to show her arriving after Reed's set has already begun, and spending half of the concert at a table, talking to a cute guy. Was Wurtzel, in her memoir, only able to relate to this music as background noise to her personal dramas, or are the filmmakers really this clueless about how to show her actually interacting with this music she supposedly loves?
With all of the self-analysis and occasional voiceover narration, it's hard not to assume that the film is at least somewhat faithful to its source material. For me, watching Prozac Nation produced an ugly side effect: It made me want to read the book, just to confirm my suspicion that I would hate it even more.