Elizabeth Wurtzel (Ricci) is a young, talented writer on her way to success and fame at Harvard in the mid-1980s. Burdened with a crushing case of depression, Wurtzel nurtures a habit of destroying relationships everywhere she goes, including ones with her mother (a hyperventilating Jessica Lange), roommates (Michelle Williams), doctors (Anna Heche), and boyfriends (including Jason Biggs and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Stuck in a deep psychological pit, Wurtzel must confront her feelings, which she resists with a gale force, eventually finding solace in a drug called Prozac.
The idea of spending time with a seriously depressed individual is not an appealing proposition. Watching highs and lows, endless drug and booze imbibing, and squashed relationships is typically the stuff of good drama, but very tricky to film. “Prozac Nation” is based on the best-selling memoir of depression by Wurtzel, and in its journey to the big screen (the film was made in 2000), an effort to shape a dramatic movie out of this troubling tale has failed mightily. Much like I imagine spending time with Wurtzel herself, “Prozac Nation” is a laborious, annoying, and wholeheartedly repulsive experience.
Director Erik Skjoldbjaerg (the original “Insomnia”) is in way over his head trying to make sense of Wurtzel’s world, and how to clearly delineate her experiences with her troubled mind. This is a cyclical motion picture, constantly reminding the audience that Wurtzel isn’t well, and that her raging jealousy and creative abysses are born out of preexisting problems. At a scant 90 minutes, there just isn’t enough insight to Wurtzel’s condition (along with her writing, which inexplicably casts a spell over everyone it comes into contact with) to understand what’s going on. And by the climax, when the author finds her way into the warm arms of the titular drug, you can clearly sense that both liberties and gaps were carefully chosen to make sure Wurtzel has a more “cinematic” journey with her illnesses in place of a honest one. Nothing is explained too deeply to make room for Wurtzel’s outbursts, and the mother character is superfluous at best, taking away crucial time to develop the main character’s internal struggle.
Skjoldbaerg isn’t much of a visual craftsman either, electing to use tired camera tricks to sell Wurtzel’s state of mind. The worst offense is an intercutting of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle tragedy footage with the mugging of Wurtzel’s mother, I assume trying to equate both as tragedies of the highest orderr Who knows, or cares to know after sitting through this.
It takes a special actress to get inside Wurtzel’s skin, and Ricci is not the lady for the job. Continually bringing down the quality of the films she’s appeared in recently (“Monster,” “Pumpkin,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Anything Else”), Ricci doesn’t have the capacity to develop a three-dimensional character out of Wurtzel, falling back on the tried-and-true weepy eyes acting technique at every stop. I’ll give Ricci the benefit of the doubt and blame the script and the filmmaker for most of the film’s errors, but her limited range contributes greatly to the uneasy feeling of amateur night the film captures well. “Prozac Nation” is a complicated story told in a very uncomplicated way, and another actress would’ve gone a long way to portraying Wurtzel as the complex persona and author she has established herself to be.Rating: F