What's the problem with Prozac Nation? It's been in the can since 2001, so why no release date? How Bad Could It Be? you wonder as it falls off the list of upcoming movies yet again. Surely its camp value alone could redeem it?
Well, now I've seen the damn movie, and it's no worse than anything else out there. Sure, it's hobbled by all the After-School Special trappings any flick "based on a true story" would have. And while it's no Showgirls or Mommie Dearest, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more infuriating and unlikeable non-serial-killer female protagonist. But there are some fine performances nestled amidst the odd shot choices and sometimes clunky dialogue.
Dorothy Parker once witheringly observed of Katharine Hepburn after watching her in a play, "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." As Elizabeth Wurtzel, you could say that Christina Ricci runs the pharmaceutical-fueled emotional gamut from H to X. Her inner basketcase extrudes and displaces all the air in the movie; she's often hateful, which is to say she really nails the performance. [I suspect this may be part of the problem for Miramax's marketing department. It's really too bad she doesn't murder anybody.]
For those lucky few out there unfamiliar with the book on which it's based, Prozac Nation is a movie about a crazy writer. How do we know? In the title credits, letters fly apart, swirl, and reform into names. In super close-up, a typewriter taps out "I," "My," and "want" on some very high fiber count paper. Oooo! Crazy!
Within the first minute of the action we get not only a flashback to a preadolescent Wurtzel cutting herself but a present-day shot of her completely naked as her neurotic, unhappy mother [a devastatingly good Jessica Lange] flutters about, readying for her daughter's departure for Harvard. She is going there on a journalism scholarship, even though Lizzie sourly tells her mother that she doesn't need to go to Harvard to be a journalist. The mother reminds her sullen girl, "At Harvard, you'll meet people. You'll get contacts." Yes, people with the patience for and a fascination with self-absorption in all its forms who may later have the power to publish your books or sell your story rights to Hollywood. Wise woman.
[In this stretch there are some establishing shots of the real Harvard and environs [nice job, second unit!]. However, the Wurtzels' reactions to the scenery made me wonder again why no one in movies ever makes campus visits before matriculating. It's always, "Ah, Harvard! Just like I pictured it!" Which it may well be, if they thought Harvard looked like LA. Or Vancouver. I suppose in the right light...]
In short order, Lizzie makes best friends with her roommate Ruby, announces in all earnestness that "We'll be like these beautiful literary freaks. Brilliant and dark and sexy," fucks a preppy named Noah, and throws herself a virginity-losing party, through which she swans around dressed like Madonna [circa "Like a Virgin"] before she gives Ruby's boyfriend what she later terms an "accidental blowjob" in the bathroom. There's also no shortage of voiceovers intoning bad adolescent poetry, lest we forget that Lizzie is a WRITER.
During this very busy first semester, Lou Reed [as Lou Reed] improbably plays a show at Harvard and sings "Perfect Day" while Lizzie is E-ing. The review she writes for the Crimson, which ends "Lou Reed should be dead," lands her the Rolling Stone college journalism award. Success goes to her head and blocks her seratonin uptake or something. While trying to write a review of Springsteen, she fast-forwards past her usual brattiness, casual drug use, and promiscuity and lands headfirst in classic writerly madness land, which we know because there are a lot of spinning camera shots and wadded up pieces of paper flung about despairingly. Also, Lizzie's not doing much bathing or sleeping, and she refuses to listen to the expected platitudes of her concerned friends. They are so poorly written, you share Lizzie's contempt for their banality.
Strung out and self-medicated, Lizzie ends up at the reviled University Health Services [actual exterior shot]. Her problem? She cannot write and, well, she's a WRITER, don't you know. [We know.] She ends up with a suicide single [the decor starter kit? posters of Taxi Driver, Patti Smith, VU, and Joy Division] and a new therapist, played by--wait for it--Anne Heche. As part of the therapeutic process, she defies her abandonment issues and starts dating Rafe [Jason Biggs], whom she met in the men's room while peaking during the Lou Reed show. She expects him to put up with her petulance and save her life. For a while, he does. They seal the deal with a sex scene in front of the Joy Division "Love Will Tear Us Apart" poster so hilariously fraught that it had the Fesser hooting and invoking Series 7.
Asking the question on every viewer's lips, Lizzie wants to know why Rafe dates her. "Because you're not boring." "What am I?" "Scary." And how. If by scary you mean a voracious black hole of neediness. Rafe goes along with being her latest doormat until Lizzie flies to his home in Texas unbidden during the holidays and discovers that he is such a good caretaker because his sister is disabled. Rafe breaks it off, Lizzie goes whining back to her shrink, who--thank God--finally puts our heroine on the miracle meds that blunt her shit out [cue cliched overhead shot of her on a hospital bed, head thrashing from side to side, Twilight Zone style].
Nearing the homestretch, but there's a bit more drama to go. Ruby rejects her; mom is mugged, which, in perfect Wurtzelian lily-gilding excess fashion, is cross-cut with scenes of the Challenger explosion and Lizzie in a psych ward bed. Lizzie rushes home to take care of her mom, who tells her "you don't have to be well for me." Why start now? Instead, Lizzie returns to school and tries to slit her wrist in the therapist's bathroom.
"Gradually and then suddenly," Prozac gives her the breathing space she needs. "Of course I feel different," she deadpans. "I'm on medication." Lizzie comes out of her depression, can write again, and grows up into the stable, well-adjusted, substance-free, selfless person we know and love even today.