December 10, 2005
Based on the autobiographical novel by Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation (2001) has had a troubled past. Intended for release in 2001, Miramax buried it when Wurtzel made some controversial remarks about 9/11 and then criticized the film itself. Some reports claimed that the movie was shelved for so long because the powers that be didn’t think it was very good. It finally sees a quiet home video release on DVD.
Elizabeth Wurtzel (Ricci) is a promising young writer who gets a scholarship to Harvard. She meets her roommate, Ruby (Williams), and they go to parties, concerts (Lou Reed!) and indulge in drugs and alcohol. We don’t see Elizabeth do much school work but she sure does a lot of writing. She comes from a very dysfunctional family: a domineering mother (Lange) and an absent father (Campbell). Elizabeth is serious about writing, going days without sleep or bathing as she writes non-stop with her writing voice running constantly through her head. She ends up alienating everyone, including her roommate.
One can see why Christina Ricci was drawn to this project (which she co-produced). The subject matter lends itself to an acting tour de force and the character is a sarcastic outsider who is too smart for her own good – a role tailor-made for the actress (with shades of her character in The Opposite of Sex). At times, she seems to be channeling Jennifer Jason Leigh’s portrayal of Dorothy Parker, another substance abusing female writer with a jaded worldview. This should have been Ricci’s Girl, Interrupted (1999). Instead, it was a film nobody saw. Prozac Nation the kind of project that draws name actors because they get to do something “gritty” and “edgy” but it still feels like a studio production and not something truly daring and exciting like Trainspotting (1996).
At times, it seems like Ricci is trying to imitate the symptoms of someone being sick. No one is likable and no attempt is made to explain why this is the case. They are all self-absorbed. It is like the cast watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and picked their favourite character to imitate. Most importantly, you don’t sympathize with Elizabeth in the film as you do with her in the book and this is due to Ricci’s performance. But it isn’t entirely her fault. The screenwriters don’t establish where her character’s centre is and this is because we are getting man’s view of a world seen through a specific woman’s eyes. As a result it doesn’t seem like they know anything about women unlike Ghost World (2000) which was also written by a man but is much more observant about young women with a very strong performance by Thora Birch who would’ve been better than Ricci in this role.
Prozac Nation is a wasted opportunity. It is based on good source material and features a strong cast but is sabotaged by a weak script and pedestrian direction. While the film doesn’t say anything new about addiction and writing; it does feature a strong performance by Ricci who bravely exposes herself emotionally and physically as she plays an unlikable character spiraling out of control on drugs with writing as the only thing that she is able to hold onto. Ultimately, Prozac Nation fails because we get no insights into the characters’ vulnerable sides; it’s all a front and nothing else—much like the film itself.
“Anatomy of a Scene” is a segment from the Sundance Channel’s excellent show that dissects a scene from a movie in terms of script, editing, camerawork, and so on. The crew of Prozac Nation sounds intelligent enough so why didn’t this translate into a better movie?