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Prozac Nation DVD Review
Movie & DVD Details
Original Television Airdate: March 19, 2005 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R
Director: Erik Skjoldbærg
Cast: Christina Ricci (Elizabeth Wurtzel), Jason Biggs (Rafe Stevenson), Anne Heche (Dr. Sterling), Michelle Williams (Ruby), Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Noah), Jessica Lange (Mrs. Wurtzel), Nick Campbell (Donald), Zoe Miller (Young Elizabeth)
“Ever since I was a little kid, my mom and I hung out together. I didn’t fit in with most kids at school; they thought I was strange, so they made me feel like a stranger. And my mother took advantage of it from an early age…” Profound monologues like this are the theme of choice in Prozac Nation, an ambiguous film with a colorful history starring Christina Ricci as the “anti-heroine” Elizabeth Wurtzel. Based on Wurtzel’s 1997 book of the same name, the film was actually shot and scheduled for release some time ago. Planned for the 2001-02 season, a number of factors had lead it to be shelved until recently. The film accumulated a nasty amount of negative advance buzz, from tepid audience reactions at screenings to Jason Biggs’ quote to the press, “I just don't know that the center of the story [Ricci] is a very endearing and likable character.” Even Wurtzel’s own less-than-favorable opinion was quoted in the New York Times, “As you should have figured out by now, it's a horrible movie.”
That was not the least that Wurtzel had done to harm the film’s reputation, though. In a 2002 interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail to promote her latest book, Wurtzel had made some fairly tactless comments concerning 9/11. When asked about her reaction to the attacks - as she was living so close to the area at the time - her thoughts ran thusly: “I had not the slightest emotional reaction. I thought, ‘this is a really strange art project…’ it was a most amazing sight in terms of sheer elegance. It fell like water. It just slid, like a turtleneck going over someone's head. I just felt like everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me.” Miramax got so much flak for that interview that they held the film over indefinitely. But following the exit of the Weinstein brothers from Miramax Films, all pending projects were released in some form or another, and Prozac Nation debuted on the Starz! premium cable network in March 2005.
The film’s content certainly would not, in this reviewer’s opinion, be what held it back. Aside from the anticlimactic “Ricci nude scene” that Internet geeks were clamoring over for years (and falsely blaming for the indefinite holdback), the film really is not half bad. It does show its indie film heritage through and through; Prozac Nation isn’t exactly a “feel-good” film. In a ruthlessly rapid and constant series of events, the film documents the decline of the main character into a crippling and repulsive bout of clinical depression. Of course, taking place in 1985, this disorder was not fully understood - even though it really is not to this day.
On the surface, the story follows Elizabeth as she enters her freshman year at Harvard University on a journalism scholarship - something she presumably won from Seventeen magazine after sending in a well-written article about her parent’s divorce that was totally false. Unlike the sunny tale she wrote, she had not reconciled with her father; in fact, she had not seen him for 4 years since he left Elizabeth and her mother for good. Despite this, she finds herself moving her things into an ancient dorm room at one of the most prestigious (pretentious?) colleges in the U.S -- the result of Elizabeth’s outstanding work and her mother’s relentless pressure. Though she and her family have had many troubles in the past, Elizabeth finds herself with the chance to start fresh.
Elizabeth quickly eases into the social scene there, starting with her roommate Ruby (Michelle Williams), and becoming familiar with guys ranging from relative “bad boy” Noah (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) to good student and “sexy intellectual preppy” Rafe (Jason Biggs). However, things quickly start to go sour when Elizabeth gets into drugs and succumbs to the stress of her workload; she spirals into meaningless circles as she tries to finish a music review article for Rolling Stone magazine, which took her on as a staff contributor after she wrote a blazing piece on Lou Reed. Then, as Elizabeth herself quotes Hemingway, her cycle of depression hits “gradually, then suddenly.” From then on, we play witness as Elizabeth becomes her own worst enemy, lashing out at those closest to her. All of her relationships turn sour - she alienates Ruby, throws her mother into destitution as she tries to help by paying for therapy, makes detestable accusations about Rafe, and rejects any real aid to alleviate her state.
At Elizabeth’s truest low point in the film, her therapist Dr. Sterling (Anne Heche) finally suggests that she try a new medication so she can “gain some perspective and not spin out of control.” Not without some scruples, Elizabeth tries the prescription, and Sterling is convinced she sees improvement. Elizabeth is loathe to admit that she does, too. Though in her perception, the pills are not “giving her breathing space,” as Dr. Sterling asserts, but “covering up” her true self. And when it comes time to decide whether to stay on this medication, Elizabeth faces a terrible decision of whether to accept this new, functional person - albeit medicated - or go back to her self-destructive “true” self.
Hardly a film to watch if you’re in anything but a pensive mood, Prozac Nation still has a strangely attractive quality about it. Much can be said of Ricci’s performance for her portrayal of a highly intelligent, highly dysfunctional “anti-heroine” - she creates a character that is so abhorrent, yet you cannot help but feel pity for her. The same is evident of the characters around her within the film. Though a fairly bleak and - yes, I can’t help but say it - depressing film to watch, Prozac Nation still has much merit to it, and deserves a look.
VIDEO and AUDIO
Prozac Nation is presented on the DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen displays. Though the film never got a proper, public theatrical release in the United States, the framing and composition of the shots suggest that this is the correct presentation. And the film certainly looks the part of a low-key “indie” feature; the picture, while free of artifacts and boasting a clean transfer, has a brooding mood about it that seems to deliberately utilize grainy film stock to emphasize the film's grim mood.
Audio is offered in English Dolby Digital 5.1, and a Spanish Stereo 2.0 dub. No major complaints arise from the playback. For a dialogue-heavy film that utilizes the center channel the most of any output, the audio was well-mixed; both the external conversations and the internal monologues were presented well, and did not oscillate to any major extent. Even when the aforementioned talking heads become loud, screaming heads, the mix was never overwhelming!
BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and DESIGN
The single extra feature present on this DVD is a 2003 episode of “Anatomy of a Scene,” a monthly 30-minute documentary feature that airs on the Sundance Channel. Without commercial breaks, the mini-doc is less than 20 minutes long; it consists of insightful interviews with the crew about - literally - the structure and setup of a single scene within the film. The director, as well as screenwriter Frank Deasy, editor James Lyons, and production designer Clay A. Griffith deconstruct the finished film and examine everything from framing and angles to the film’s color palette. Speaking of which, I found Griffith’s segment on set design the most interesting; using muted, blanched-out colors to represent Elizabeth’s bleak state of mind. Griffith, collaborating with Skjoldbærg, took inspiration from the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (famous for The Scream painting), using the expressionist’s dull tones to invoke the literal depression that the film strives to show. At the end of all the chatter and dissection, the scene of note is shown in its entirety before the episode’s credits roll. A surprisingly insightful “featurette” overall, for being the only extra on the disc.
The menus on Prozac Nation are simple and straightforward. Nothing moving, just artfully collaged stills with no music, and no fancy selection highlights. The only mildly creative touch comes from the scene selection menus, which present the chapter screens in a pill capsule shape, but even that seems a bit trite. The two DVD sneak peeks that play before the menu are the thriller Cursed - also starring Christina Ricci, and Dear Frankie, a 2004 drama that had a very limited release in the U.S. earlier this year. The packaging for Prozac Nation is equally as simple - a standard black Amaray keepcase to house the single disc within. The single-page insert provides chapter titles on the front, and a DVD ad for Cursed on the back. And of course, I regret to say that this title lacks the most important feature of all - a slipcover. Better luck with the Platinum Editions, guys!
“Seems like everyone’s doctor is dealing this stuff now. Sometimes it feels like we’re all living in a Prozac nation… the United States of Depression.” Such go the thoughts of Elizabeth on the idea of chemical aid for behavioral disorders; unflinchingly cynical, yet unfortunately quite true. Though the film is fairly bleak and never truly resolves the messes that Elizabeth creates herself due to her depressed funk, Prozac Nation still offers some valuable introspective at times, and its broody, highly emotional sequences can’t help but stimulate some contemplation from the viewer. Though probably not a designated “repeat viewing” film, it still is well recommended!
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Reviewed September 5, 2005. UltimateDisney.com: The Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD • Discussion Forum
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Reviewed September 5, 2005.
UltimateDisney.com: The Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD • Discussion Forum