DVD Review of Prozac Nation

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/23/05


  In the real world of art Elizabeth Wurtzel is the sexy drama queen every guy wants to fuck, but no guy wants to wake up next to. Her on-screen portrayer, Christina Ricci, is the ugly artsy wannabe girl that desperately wants every and any guy, but no guy will touch her. That’s why, in Prozac Nation, the unreleased 2001 film of Wurtzel’s 1990s bestseller book of the same name, there are immediate problems. Ok, the problems start before the miscast of Ricci, who has the emotional range of a thimble- is it any wonder that, by far, her finest acting was in the two Addams Family films? First off, she is bizarre looking- with big eyes and a bulging forehead, making her look like the fetal Starchild from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Secondly, she always plays whiney brats. But, thirdly, is the way films try to make it appear any guy would be attracted to her. In one scene in the film her pal Ruby (Michelle Williams) and Liz walk through Harvard, and all the guys’ tongues are wagging at Ricci, not the super-cute and sexy Williams. Hello….Reality check time.

  Yet, the worst part of the film is that, like the book, not a dram of insight is given into Wurtzel, nor her claims of manic depression. We don’t care, as an audience, because Ricci’s performance belies a bigger problem with Wurtzel, herself. She’s simply not a nice person. On top of that, her writing, declaimed as brilliant in the film, is revealed as literally a string of neverending clichés- I guess, though, perfect for a magazine like Rolling Stone, but not literature. I knew many Liz Wurtzel types in my days in the arts scenes of my twenties, and laid a few of them. To know that my hunch that there was nothing inside such women is no comfort, though. The film was directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg, and he does what he can with what little the narrative and characters give him, and the adaptation by Galt Niederhoffer. The acting, outside of Ricci, is first rate. Williams is sensitive, and deep, as Ruby, whose story seems far more interesting than Wurtzel’s. Nicholas Campbell, as Liz’s absentee dad, shines in his few scenes, and Anne Heche as her therapist is surprisingly convincing. Even the tabula rasa-like Jason Biggs, as boyfriend Rafe, shows some chops, especially in scenes with his retarded sister, whom Liz sillily accuses of being his mode of gaining self-importance. But, this film really is a showcase for Jessica Lange- one of the best actresses in cinema history. Whatever good is in this film is mainly from her portrayal of Liz’s neurotic mom, who battles Liz, her ex-husband, and even muggers. Her accent, New Yorker trying to be high class, is perfect, as are her mannerisms.

  As for the tale? Not much. Liz goes to Harvard, fucks around, bitches, moans, steals Ruby’s boyfriend, disses Riby and her mom, pines for her dad and Rafe, wins some writing awards, and goes through several predictable drug/hallucination scenes. Yawn! Then she sees her therapists, bitches and moans, and attempts suicide- not really. Everyone in her life kisses her ass and enables her selfishness, when all she really wants

is attention. So does the movie. But, why give it if it gives nothing else? There are occasionally nice cinematic touches and well-composed scenes, and Skjoldbjaerg (who directed the original Swedish Insomnia) has talent. But, no film can succeed long term without a real story to tell. And the nice touches are followed with too many clichés- such as a rotating camera to tell us Liz is disoriented and just plain old fucked up. The flashbacks to a younger Liz, who looks nothing like Ricci or the real Wurtzel are equally pointless and trite.

  This material begged for the Andy Warhol treatment. Here is his version of the film. A five minute shot of a hypodermic needle. A five minute shot of Wurtzel’s hairy pudenda. A five minute shot of her sleeping naked and stoned on the bed. She rises, gives the middle finger to the audience. Cue credits. See, less than twenty minutes to distill Wurtzel’s whole life. And, oh yeah, Warhol’s film would not have cast Ricci. Even Michelle Williams would have been better, and after seeing Ricci’s pallid bosom, I’d take anything Williams or any other babe had to offer me cinematically. Ricci is almost the kiss of death for a film, and how she stays working is a mystery. Think of her performances in mediocre to bad films like Monster, Sleepy Hollow, and Woody Allen’s Anything Else- also co-starring Jason Biggs, and now picture another actress in her role, and immediately the films could seem better, if not great. She is the female counterpart to banal, wooden, milquetoast actors like Tom Cruise and Leonardo Dicaprio.

  And Wurtzel is such a self-absorbed, hedonistic narcissist that no one can relate to her character. That is the key to selling any character, not their likeability, which is also absent. This is probably why the movie was shelved. That, and the fact that it has no logical ending. It fades out mid-trauma, and then we see title cards that speak of depression and Wurtzel’s becoming a best-selling writer years later. Literally, the film seems completely unfinished, and is, in many ways, a stepchild to the superior and earlier film based on another neurotic female writer, Susanna Kaysen’s life- Girl, Interrupted.

  As for the DVD, no commentary, no trailer, and only a lame IFC Anatomy Of A Scene, which says little. The scene is one of many where Liz freaks out for no reason. A commentary by Ricci or the real Wurtzel would have been interesting, if not informative, for it would at least be fun and funny to hear her bitch on how this film sucks. It could rival the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys in laughs. Instead, what we’re left is much like the real Wurtzel, an attractive outer shell of cinematography, with maggots and all sorts of other infestations eating away at the film’s vapid innards. She is, by far, the least interesting character in the film. Biopics usually suffer from telling too much of a life. This film suffers from the opposite. It focuses relentlessly on Liz, and gives no greater background nor depth. That it ends leaving the viewer hanging is no surprise, in retrospect. Neither the real Wurtzel nor the director seemed to know what to do with this life. I do- despite the sometimes cock-smoking lips that such babes proffer, avoid them, and this film!

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