Why the multiple dates? The saga behind
the release of this film is probably more interesting than the film
that would not be difficult to achieve.
history of yoghurt would probably be more interesting than this film.
Listening to old people discuss their lumbago would probably be more
interesting than this film, particularly if, unlike me, you know what
the hell lumbago is. By the way,
St. Lawrence is the patron saint of lumbago, and a damned fine
Seaway to boot. See, you old people, I was listening!
enough of the more interesting matters. Let's return to Prozac Nation.
It is the film version of Elizabeth
Wurtzel's self-portrait which focuses on the battles she fought with
depression in her school years. The film zeroes in on her years at
Harvard as a scholarship student, during which she apparently managed to
alienate everyone she came in contact with, including her family, her
suitors, her roommate, and even her shrink. The film was lensed
in 2000, and had various release dates come and go, having been
postponed about once or twice a year until the film finally by-passed
North American theaters altogether and went to cable and DVD in 2005.
One of the few people who got to see it was Elizabeth Wurzel, which is
fitting since it is supposed to be her autobiography. She pronounced it
"horrible." On the other hand, that may not be meaningful, because if
she is like the character who represents her, she gets really depressed
and pronounces everything "horrible." In fact some industry insiders
said that one of Wurtzel's public outbursts managed to abort the 2001
release single-handedly. The film was shown at the Toronto Film Festival
on September 8, 2001. Three days later, al-Qaeda hijacked the airliners
Wurtzel promptly made some offensive public comments. Let's just say
that the promotional plan for the film probably never included any
Tonight Show appearances for Ms. Wurtzel.
film truly "horrible"? Nah. The problem with this film is not really its
quality. It was directed by an excellent helmsman,
Norwegian Erik Skjoldbjærg, who took this on as his next project after
his highly acclaimed Insomnia. It features a competent central
performance from Christina Ricci and a solid support cast:
Jason Biggs, Anne Heche, Michelle
Williams, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Jessica Lange. That's a lot of
talent. So if quality isn't the problem, what is? Well, to be blunt, it
is a boring story about a totally unlikable person, and thus fails
miserably to clear the Gene Siskel Hurdle. If you aren't familiar with
that term, Siskel would often get right to the point in his reviews and
ask himself if he would like to have dinner with the film's characters
as they discussed their interests. If the answer was "no", then why, he
wondered, should he spend the same two hours with them in the theater.
The central character in Prozac Nation is egotistical, condescending,
whiny, antagonistic, unreliable, depressing, and depressed. Moreover,
she lacks a sense of humor. Is that the kind of person you would like to
have dinner with? Of course not. She would be a conversation-deadening
force even if she had something interesting to say, but here she does
Let's face it, we can tolerate "boring"
and "annoying" separately in small doses. Ben Stein? Boring as hell, but
not annoying, so potentially droll and entertaining in small doses. Dick
Vitale? Annoying as can be, but not boring, so able to hold our
attention in bursts. But if you place boring and annoying together, they
form a lethal combination. For example, how long can you listen to Bob
Novak? Well, this movie is like two hours of Bob Novak.
Although if Novak looked like Christina
Ricci and did his shows naked, I could tolerate him a little longer.
Not only would the Ricci character make a
poor choice as a dinner partner, but she is not even the kind of person
who really moves you to care about her fate at all. Even if she faced a
life-threatening situation in the film, which she does in the form of
suicide, the outcome wouldn't draw in your involvement because you
wouldn't really care whether she lived or died.
So why release such a film?
It is a
professionally crafted and performed movie, but the real problem with
it, as was obviously noted by the studio execs who kept postponing its
release, is that one cannot imagine why anyone else would want to watch
it. One might argue that it has some artistic or educational merit, but
it is completely non-commercial. I don't know if the book Prozac Nation
could have been made into a watchable movie, but this review of the book
gives a clue:
"By turns emotionally powerful and
tiresomely solipsistic, her book straddles the line between an
absorbing self-portrait and a coy bid for public attention."
A film, of course, must reduce a complex
book to a two hour condensation. Perhaps the film could have worked if
it had pared down the running time by discarding the "tiresomely
solipsistic" parts and featuring the "emotionally powerful."
Unfortunately, it took the opposite tack.