Prozac Nation premièred to little regard at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival, just a few days before 9/11. Five months later, author Elizabeth Wurtzel, who wrote the autobiographical bestseller on which it was based, said this about the tragedy: "I had not the slightest emotional reaction. I thought, 'This is a really strange art project.' It was the most amazing sight in terms of sheer elegance. It fell like water. It just slid, like a turtleneck going over someone's head." Wurtzel's comments no doubt influenced Miramax's decision to shelve the film for nearly four years before quietly shuffling it to cable and then DVD, but the movie really speaks for itself. In a post-9/11 world, there's really no reservoir of sympathy deep enough to support a whiny, navel-gazing Harvard student who turns her depression into a show-stopping spectacle. Is it any wonder that the Twin Towers falling drew such a callous reaction from Wurtzel? Sept. 11 was a day when all the attention wasn't focused on her.
Falling perfectly in line with other misbegotten literary adaptations about privileged kids in trouble, such as Less Than Zero and Bright Lights, Big City, Prozac Nation opens in the mid-'80s with Christina Ricci, as Wurtzel, entering her freshman year at Harvard with all the promise in the world. A gifted writer, Ricci draws immediate attention from Rolling Stone for her essay on Lou Reed, but her crippling depression, coupled with a rapidly developing substance-abuse problem, portends a rapid decline. Soon enough, she's giving blow-jobs to her best friend's boyfriend, getting dragged to the emergency room in a stupor, and running up therapy bills on her mother Jessica Lange, who sinks into debt to pay them off. Ricci looks for salvation from a nice-guy boyfriend (Jason Biggs), but before long, his legs buckle under her emotional baggage, and then it's back to the "cry for help" suicide attempts.
As the title suggests, Prozac Nation posits Wurtzel as one in a mopey generation kept in line by colorful little pills; in one revealing scene, Ricci wonders aloud whether antidepressants make you another person, and whether that person is happier. It's the first time her behavior invites any kind of sympathy, because it's also the first time her problems are tethered in some way to those outside herself. By then, her antics have become so insufferable that it's hard to keep from idly wondering how therapists keep from strangling their patients. Save for some poor voiceover work and a tendency to stage drug/alcohol binges in double vision, director Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia) has probably made the truest adaptation possible for Wurtzel's book, and Ricci acquits herself nicely with a raw, committed performance. But if Wurtzel's closest friends and family get fed up with her, she can't hope for more from the strangers in the audience.