Dismissed by critics at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival, Erik Skjoldbjærg’s adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation was also given a pass by test audiences before being unceremoniously shelved by a nervous Miramax. Christina Ricci stars as the monstrous Wurtzel, who struggled with depression during her first year at Harvard before the titular drug afforded her the “breathing room” to work on her writing. Prozac Nation isn’t very good, but not for the reasons many critics (Elvis Mitchell among them) have alleged. Anyone who’s ever had to live with a teenage girl who refuses to get along with her parents and has shown signs of clinical depression will no doubt relate to Wurtzel’s shrill, sometimes hysterical spectacle of self-hurt. Ricci, a largely inconsistent and limited actress, is splendid when the atomic bomb inside her character’s head goes off, and some of Prozac Nation’s better scenes are her sparring matches with Jessica Lange, whose punishing, chain-smoking mother hen says plenty about why Wurtzel turned out the way she did. The filmmakers seem to understand the selfishness of Wurtzel’s depression—the need to cause others pain and how her behavior challenges the people around her to keep their sanity as well—but the frustratingly straightforward Prozac Nation is a textbook example of how not to use voiceover on film. When Wurtzel’s medical bills ruin her mother, the woman has to move to a cheap apartment in New York. When Wurtzel sees the hovel for the first time, it’s obvious from the shame on Ricci’s face that her character is conscious of the older woman’s sacrifice. “One day I’ll pay her back,” the voiceover rings, one of many unnecessary thoughts used to balance the on-screen action. In most cases, Wurtzel’s angst speaks for itself, and as such Skjoldbjærg’s use of the voiceover seems to say less about the woman’s struggle than it does about his insecurity as a filmmaker. It also doesn’t help that the director’s use of camera trickery to evoke the hurlyburly of depression feels equally contrived. That’s not to say that Wurtzel’s thoughts aren’t worthwhile (her observation that she wakes up tired from her dreams is particularly haunting), it’s just that they’re as literal-minded as the schematic, cause-and-effect flashbacks interspersed throughout the film. A more considerate Skjoldbjærg could have made a better picture had he not watched Requiem For a Dream prior to shooting or if he allowed Wurtzel’s view of herself to be gleaned entirely from her beautiful if not disturbingly introspective music reviews for Rolling Stone.
The upside of Miramax not releasing Prozac Nation in theaters is that the studio was able to spend all their marketing and publicity money on the excellent audio and video transfer for the film’s DVD release.
Trailers for Cursed and Dear Frankie and a typically solid edition of IFC’s "Anatomy of a Scene" special devoted to Prozac Nation.
Choose the lesser of two evils: Make Tom Cruise proud and medicate yourself with Prozac Nation and not the actual pill.