Prozac Nation (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The saga behind the release of this film is probably more interesting than the film itself.

Although that would not be difficult to achieve.

The 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!

Ah, yes, 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 and 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.

Is the film truly "horrible"? Nah. The problem with this film is not really its quality. It was directed by an excellent helmsman, the 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 not.

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.

A little.

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" and featuring the "emotionally powerful." Unfortunately, it took the opposite tack.



  • widescreen,  anamorphically enhanced
  • "anatomy of a scene" featurette



Christina Ricci appears naked in the first few minutes of the film (breasts in clear light and the top of her pubes as she sits)

The Critics Vote ...

  • James Berardinelli 3/4

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-, a movie which brings a professional level of execution and a middle class sensibility to a completely non-commercial project, thus resulting in something which is neither mainstream nor arthouse. Who is the audience? I can't imagine.

Return to the Movie House home page