Overlooked really is the first adjective I’d ascribe to my choice for this week’s Overlooked Movie, “Prozac Nation“. Based on Elizabeth Wurtzel‘s 1994 memoir about suffering major depression, the film was made in 2001, and premiered at Toronto that very same year, with the rights being purchased by Miramax. But it wasn’t until 2005 that “Prozac Nation” saw a US release, and even then, it was on Starz. Why the film was prolonged for so many years, and why it is still absent from pop culture and most video rental stores, remains a mystery.
Now, I know I have a reputation here on Scene-Stealers for reviewing only films I adore; films I think are flawless. “Prozac Nation” is not one of those films. It’s flawed, in more ways that one, but also has a lot to offer its audience, I believe. So, finally, a non-biased review.
As I mentioned, the film is not without its weaknesses, but the performances are the strong parts. Christina Ricci plays Wurtzel, the Harvard student with manic tendencies, in a wise casting choice. Ricci is actually quite talented, and I think she shines in this role (not an easy one by any means, mind you). We buy into her madness, her mania, and her depression so easily, because it’s all in her face. I never think of Ricci as underrated, until I consider her roles in films like this, “Monster”, and her Emmy-nominated stint on “Grey’s Anatomy“ that I realize she’s really fucking talented. Why isn’t she on the big screen much anymore?
The magnificent Jessica Lange plays Elizabeth’s mother, a bit depressed and manic in her own right, and gives a terrific performance. She smokes like a chimney, all the while becoming her character. It’s a performance I imagine would’ve garnered her major buzz during Awards Season if the film had a proper release. Also quite good is a post-Ellen Anne Heche, who plays Elizabeth’s therapist. Even Jason Biggs isn’t horrible as Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Rafe.
The only disappointing actor in the film—and it pains me to say it, because I do love her work—is Michelle Williams, as Elizabeth’s roommate. She’s consistently stoic, but never in the right way. Thankfully, she’s grown a ton as an actress, so we can all forgive her this minor slip-up. Yes?
The flaws of the film are both minor and major. Most are quick to point out the various anachronistic errors in the film (Facebook in 1985? Really, editing team?), and some have global issues with the structure of the film and its abrupt ending. I argue that the film is not necessarily structured as well as it could have been—especially in regard to character growth—but then am reminded that the film is about deep depression; a messy problem to put on the screen.
Perhaps the disjunctive structure and seemingly out-of-place scenes are in fact placed to mirror Wurtzel’s struggle. Or maybe that’s delving too deep and expecting too much. Watch it and you choose. The abrupt ending doesn’t bother me at all, because the film doesn’t follow the typical narrative arch. I wasn’t expecting a happy, tied-up-in-a-bow ending, especially in a film on depression.
These flaws aside, I think what the film does best is stay true to its aim: to show an audience what mental illness looks like. It’s a goal that several films have failed to do properly (Am I the only one who hated “Girl Interrupted”?) and I think the film deserves merit for giving us so much of what mental illness is, rendered perfectly by Ricci.
Rent the movie and see for yourself, but I think “Prozac Nation” has been sadly overlooked. What audiences are missing are fantastic performances (Ricci and Lange as a mother-daughter duo is perfection) and a genuine, heartfelt portrayal of mental illness on the screen.