Dir: Erik Skjoldbjaerg. US. 2001. 98 mins.
As if proof were needed, Christina Ricci proves she is one of her generation's most fearless actors with a bold and nuanced performance in Prozac Nation, the film of Elizabeth Wurtzel's autobiographical book about youthful depression. Virtually on screen for the film's entire 98 minutes, Ricci plays Wurtzel as unlikeable, hostile and crude, while also - crucially - maintaining the sympathy of audiences who, while possibly not relating to her, will certainly feel her pain. Commercial prospects among educated upscale audiences are bright for the film not only for its contemporary subject matter and the much-publicised notion of chemical anti-depressants but for the ever fashionable Ricci and her supercool cast. The star co-produced as well, boding well for extensive publicity opportunities.
Aged 18, Lizzie is already a published journalist. She is just about to start her freshman year at Harvard, having won a scholarship there, and seems in good spirits when she and her larger-than-life single mother (an ill-at-ease Lange) arrive for the first semester. Already, however, we have been exposed to her mood swings, depression and deep insecurity. She quickly makes friends with her roommate Ruby (Williams), starts a brief relationship with the handsome Noah (Rhys Meyers) and gets commissioned by Rolling Stone to cover local bands. But she begins sabotaging her own prosperity almost immediately: she alienates both Ruby and Noah, telling everyone about her sexual experiences with Noah and then blurting out to Ruby that she has slept with her boyfriend. While her long-suffering mother struggles to pay for Lizzie's therapy sessions with Dr Sterling (Heche), Lizzie spirals further down into misery. She has a brief period of happiness in an all-consuming love affair with the upstanding Rafe (Biggs) but swiftly destroys that relationship as well. Finally, Dr Sterling prescribes Prozac, a drug which changes her personality but which gives her some perspective to extricate herself from her gloom.
It's a quietly intense piece and Skjoldbjaerg imbues it with the same melancholy which made such an impression with Insomia in 1997. Rather than use cinematic trickery to take us inside Lizzie's head a la Requiem For A Dream, he dares us to try and understand her behaviour. As Girl, Interrupted demonstrated in 1999, mental illness doesn't make for particularly compelling viewing if drawn with broad brush strokes. But Skjoldbjaerg keeps the focus so relentlessly on Wurtzel's gruelling journey of self-loathing and isolation that her malaise becomes palpable and moving.
Prod co: Given Films, Millenium Films in association with Cinerenta
Int'l sales: Nu Image
Exec prods: Willi Baer, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, John Thompson
Prod: Galt Niederhoffer, Brad Weston, R Paul Miller
Co-prods: Andrea Sperling, Christina Ricci
Scr: Niederhoffer, Alex Orlovsky, Larry Gross & Frank Deasy based on the novel by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Cinematography: Erling Thurmann-Andersen
Prod des: Clay A Griffith. Ed: James Lyons
Main cast: Christina Ricci, Jessica Lange, Jason Biggs, Michelle Williams, Anne Heche, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Nicholas Campbell