Sunday, 19 October 2014

Prozac Nation (2001)

"It was an accidental blowjob..."

I remember when Elizabeth Wurtzel's book came out in '94 and was reviewed in all the papers. That was 20 years ago. And looking back, it was a world away in terms of attitudes towards mental illness which, even today, are far from advanced. This film is very much a chronicle of such attitudes in the 1980's, with its protagonists facing bewilderment and misunderstanding from family and acquaintances who see only her affluent upbringing and her writing abilities.

I love the way this film evokes an alternative 1980's, with Elizabeth working in rock journalism and Lou Reed even making an appearance. At one point we even have "I Will Dare" by the Replacements  on the soundtrack. But this isn't the only clue that we are in a different time. Elizabeth's pushy parents, oblivious of her self-harm, do not understand what is happening at all. Her mother is pushy, her father absent, and neither see her for who she truly is or even care. Her mother is living life through her daughter, thereby putting pressure on her to succeed where she failed.

Things seems to start well, however. Although as alienated at Harvard as she was at school, Elizabeth makes friends with her room mate and absorbs herself in writing. Christina Ricci is magnificent. She's a great actress, and I don't really understand why her only big films happened in just a few years at the turn of the Millennium. It's strange seeing Jonathan Rhys Meyers with an American accent, and equally odd to see that annoying bloke from the American Pie films in a serious role as a rather earnest character. Both actors play prospective sexual partners for Elizabeth, one she loses her virginity to and the other rather more serious, and soon coming to learn just what is involved in being someone who has depression.

Things start to go off the rails before long, as her unhealthy obsession with writing gives way to debilitating depression, which is made so much worse by her mothers interference. The key scene in the film, I think, occurs on Elizabeth's birthday as her mother and grandparents mutually pretend that nothing unusual is happening. Things always end with guilt piling up on Elizabeth.

She finds refuge in the arms of Rafe, but constantly worries about his commitment ultimately ending in an acrimonious break-up. It is at this point that Lizzie loses faith in the constant quackery of her counsellors, taking Prozac instead.

The film winds down with Lizzie's mum, elderly, in decline, and in reduced circumstances because of the costs of Lizzie's medication, needing to be looked after by her daughter. The worst moment of the whole film sees Lizzie's grandmother, uncomprehending of mental illness, blaming her for the whole thing. Eventually Lizzie recovers, but this is because of the Prozac, and she is left well aware that Prozac is just a plaster and the drugged Lizzie is not the real Lizzie. This film is outstanding and much, much under rated.

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