Species (1995)

Species (1995) movie poster

director Roger Donaldson
viewed: 03/01/2014

I’d been watching a lot more “quality” movies of late, as I’m trying to work my way through a laundry list of “major” films that I’ve never seen. But sometimes to really need more classic “junk cinema” to clear your head.

I’d seen Species back in the day, that day being close to 20 years ago.  I saw it either on cable or video.  I’m open-minded toward cheap science fiction and horror, meaning I’ll almost watch anything sometimes.

Species, in my recollection, was a decent flick.  Most notable for its H.R. Giger designs and its oft-naked Natasha Henstridge loping around Los Angeles.  Actually, I couldn’t recall a lot else about it, but sort of remembered Ben Kingsley as the government dude involved in the shenanigans.

Actually, it’s kind of interesting, the idea.  Aliens communicate back with Earth offering tech info and a sequence of their own genome.  Government scientists splice this information together with human DNA and develop a young girl (who turns out to be a young Michelle Williams as the teen form of Natasha Henstridge).  They decide she’s too dangerous and try to destroy her, but she escapes and starts to mutate/develop further, primarily driven by the need to procreate.

Kingsley is the head of the science team and he assembles a rather odd crew of people to help him track her down.  Michael Madsen is a sort of “fixer” type.  Alfred Molina is a science nerd.  Forest Whitaker is an empathetic empath.  And Marg Helgenberger is some other type of scientist.  Actually if you consider Kingsley, Williams, Whitaker, and Molina, you’ve got a pretty decent cast here.

The designs may be cool but they are done in what was then moderately top of the line computer animation, which today looks pretty cheap and shoddy.  It’s perhaps the most dated element of this film that is in many ways a very evocatively 1990’s movie.

But kind of what’s most interesting is this sort of biological female, driven entirely by the need to procreate.  Henstridge is tall and blond and right out of Playboy magazine, if you will.  It’s not hard for her to find willing mates in LA, though her senses warn her of potential fallibility of certain men’s genetic possibilities.  She’s also sort of lethal like a preying mantis or other such creature that kills its mate after the procreation is complete.  She’s kind of a femme fatale deluxe.

It’s possible to see it as either sort of misogynist or alternatively kind of pro-feminist.  The scientists made her female because they thought she’d be easier to handle (what ho! irony!)

It’s directed by Roger Donaldson who brought us No Way Out (1987) and Cocktail (1988) during his period of having touched the American movie zeitgeist.  And while the film is never grasping at greatness, it does have more inherent qualities than one might remember.  It’s also quite the progenitor of Splice (2010), would actually make a reasonable double feature with it.

It went on to a few sequels, which I never saw.  And, for now, I may well leave it at that.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) movie poster

director Sam Raimi
viewed: 03/16/2013 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Sam Raimi’s faux-Technicolor fantasy, Oz the Great and Powerful, is quite the spectacle.  Unfortunately spectacle only goes so far in a movie.  Both a great homage to the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) and optimistic founding of another modern movie franchise, Raimi taps into old and new and lets the art designers go to town, not just the Emerald City, to give vivid, new digital life to the work of L. Frank Baum.

Baum’s work has weathered the years, probably in no short measure aided significantly by MGM’s cinematic masterpiece, but the depths of the many Oz books have never been fully plumbed by Hollywood.  While Oz the Great and Powerful is poised as a prequel and doesn’t actually tap its roots into any of Baum’s novels (only his “universe”), the landscape of Hollywood deals and marketable names offers a long line of potential re-workings.  I’m not overly familiar with Baum’s novels, but the ones that I’ve read are rich, strange, and fantastic.

Raimi’s film suffers two major problems.  The one that most have noted is the casting.  James Franco, for what he’s worth, does indeed seem utterly miscast as the prestidigitator-turned-fake Wizard, swept up from a black and white Kansas via cyclone to the lurid daydream of Oz.  Mila Kunis, for all her charms, is also an actress so much of the present that she seems utterly awkward in a period/fantasy piece.  And while I’ve always liked Rachel Weisz, the only one who felt to me like some sort of classic timeless character was Michelle Williams.  I’ve read critiques of her performance too, but I thought she was adequately ethereal and good, the only person in the film that felt right.

But perhaps more than anything, the problem is the script.  It’s not that the story idea is bad but the whole film lacks verve, magic, even comedy.  Even in a weak film, the comedic bits are usually functional “relief” but the film’s humor was as flat as any part of the film.  And the dialogue was pretty uninspired all around.

I watched the film with Clara and in 3-D, the latter of which I usually avoid at all costs.  Very typical of 3-D, I would say, the added “depth” added nothing.  Sure, it made a few of the visuals “pop” a bit more, but c’mon!  For an extra $3 I would rather have had a better film at the core.

All this complaint, sure, but it’s not a disaster of a film.  It’s extremely weak in parts, sure, but it’s entertaining enough.  The designs are certainly the highlights and Michelle Williams, one of my favorite actresses, stands out.  Clara and I enjoyed it.  Though it is not a beneficent omen of the movie season to come.

As for Raimi, we’ll always have Evil Dead II (1986).

Meek’s Cutoff

Meek's Cutoff (2010) movie poster

(2010) directed by Kelly Reichardt
viewed: 09/25/2011

The latest film from Oregonian film-maker Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff is essentially a Western, but placing it in that genre might seem more a misnomer than any kind of indicator of what the film is really like.  If you’ve seen other of Reichardt’s films, such as Old Joy (2006) or Wendy and Lucy (2008), you might have a better sense of what to expect.  Reichardt makes films about smaller stories, more intimate narratives, with naturalism taken to levels of low-key that blends toward the oft boring reality of life.  So far, always set in Oregon.

Meek’s Cutoff is a period film, set in the mid-19th Century, following a trio of covered wagons being led west by a dodgy trailblazer named Meek, whose shaggy face and demeanor, plus his long-promised, though not yet found destination have made the families suspicious of his abilities.  In this, the film faces a more epic reality than a lost friendship or a lost dog, but survival of men, women and children.  In that sense, there is a deeper drama than in her prior films, and perhaps a more epic scope behind the tenor of quietude and empty space.

The easy criticism is that it’s slow and boring.  While in some ways more things happen than in the other films, Reichardt portrays the probably reality of being lost in the Western emptiness, that it’s isolating and not filled with raging excitement.  Perhaps in that sense, there is a realism not attempted by many Westerns, that starving to death is just not a very exciting thing to watch.

The film stars Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy star, Michelle Williams.  Here playing a bonnetted woman of her day, stronger perhaps than her societal role or clothing might suggest, but one who is still beholden to the highly unreliable Meek.  When Meek captures a native American, with whom they cannot communicate, the moral dilemma is struck.  Is he, as Meek tells them, a killer who would just as soon bring his tribe down upon them, or is he possibly their only real hope of finding fresh water?

I appreciate Reichardt’s integrity, her approach to narrative, of telling smaller stories, stories regionally tied to a specific place.  I also don’t necessarily recoil at a slow film (not that I’m up for one everyday).  But Reichardt has yet to achieve something greater than its smaller scope.  For even Meek’s Cutoff, with its inherent drama in the life and death struggle of the European settlers, the moral ambiguity of their relationship with nature and the native people, their hopes hung upon an unreliable leader, it still doesn’t manage to speak to deeper, more powerful depths.  Her interests are often in those who are lost, in small ways or psychological, emotional ways.  And she wants to achieve narrative completion without some false element or device, but when this film ended, it felt incomplete.  Not because it ends without resolution (it does end without resolution), but because the interior story didn’t manage to make even that lack of resolution resonate in a way of power.

I have hopes for her yet.  And I like Michelle Williams.

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine (2010) movie poster

(2010) director Derek Cianfrance
viewed: 01/14/11 at the UA Stonestown Twin, SF, CA

While it’s certainly true that not all love stories have happy endings, and perhaps that even most do not, most films about love stories tend to dwell on the manic joys more than on the dissolution of love.  Blue Valentine tries to measure the whole arc of the story of love, casting glances toward the significance and story of life as well.  The lovers are Michelle Phillips and Ryan Gosling, who helped produce this film, an indie flick that gives focus to the good and the bad and which does not end in happiness.

The film begins when the family dog has run off, perhaps an omen or a metaphor for what will happen to the family, to the couple, who has a small child.  The film’s present is about five years into their marriage.  Gosling’s hairline has taken a beating and Williams just seems completely fed up.  But the full breadth of the story evolves through flashbacks, to their meeting, their getting together, and ultimately marrying and having a child together.

The film is very naturalistic, but also features a lot of tight close-ups on Williams and Gosling’s faces, adding to the claustraphobia that Williams’ character is suffering in her life.  Being non-linear, unfolding in pieces, while the story moves to its inevitable break-up and dissolution, it’s not a simple film to piece through.

But the real strengths are its stars.  Williams is beautiful and has the rough role of being the one who falls out of love, can seem bitchy about her unaspiring husband, but she is very good, wending her way through the characters several years.  Gosling is excellent as the sincere, sweet, working class guy who never knew what he wanted until he had his wife and child.  And really, they make the film.

The film does have many moments that feel real and can be very striking.  The scene in which Gosling serenades Williams while she dances in front of a store, strumming his ukulele, singing “You Always Hurt the One You Love” is very sweet and striking.  It was used in its straight-through, uncut self as the trailer for the film, which certainly struck me when I saw it.  Seeing it again in the film, it’s poignant, because they are already very unhappy, we know their future, but here they are in the light flirtations of early romance, utterly charming.

For me, the film worked, and worked well.  Not only can I easily imagine that it’s not going to be for everybody, but I can even imagine that some people who may even be open to this sad, slow, unhappy story may find potential fault with it.  But, like I said, I fall on the side of finding it very moving, fresh, and at times, vivid.

Shutter Island

(2010) director Martin Scorsese
viewed: 07/07/10

Martin Scorsese is a film scholar of the first kind.  That is, a film scholar before film scholarship became an actual study in universities.  Film scholars of his generation had no DVD’s, limited television re-showings, and only the primary experience of seeing films on their initial release in the cinema.  And it’s that formative experience and how he developed his passion for cinema and his aesthetics and ideas that really defined him.  Of course, he would go on to teach film, but as well, he would go on to make films, films that are worthy of scholarship on their own.  I don’t think it’s radical to suggest that Scorsese is among the important American directors of his generation and that he has made some excellent films.

Nowadays, film is more readily available, watchable on demand, able to be studied virtually frame by frame if one is wont to, and not only are film studies programs available all over the world, but there are now perhaps armies of armchair cinephiles clocking hours of film-watching but via internet and blogs, everyone is (potentially) a critic, though how scholarly they are, I don’t know.

Scorsese, between his own films, new films that he helps to produce by other filmmakers or even revivals of classics and favorites, his influence is pretty pervasive.  And he knows good stuff.  His A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), made for British television during cinema’s centennial is something I’ve been meaning to go back and watch again for a long time.  It’s a great primer and it’s very informative about what draws Scorsese to certain directors, films, and aesthetic focal points.  He, as I’ve said, is a scholar and a professor, and the man simply knows his stuff. He’s great to listen to.

Scorsese’s best work, arguably, was in the earlier part of his career: Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), with his last “great” film being Goodfellas (1990).  With both Raging Bull and Goodfellas getting ruefully overlooked at the Academy Awards, he finally got some long-deserved recognition in finally being awarded Best Picture and Best Director for The Departed (2006) after swinging for the fences with Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004).  But what earmarks much of Scorsese’s last two decades of films is that they are big films with big ideas, epic scopes, and strive mightily to tell big stories.  And as with some of the material, the epic is clear, but what’s funky about The Departed and now Shutter Island is that these stories are perhaps a bit more of genre films, less epic in nature, more cut out to be leaner, meaner films.

Now, one could argue that Scorsese took The Departed to that more epic place, but Shutter Island is much more pulpy material, and it’s funny having watched some of the Val Lewton movies that I’ve tracked lately, films all clocking in at much less than 90 minutes, low-budget affairs which Scorsese has a fervent appreciation for, you can see sort of the other side of the coin, the lean, effective thriller, without all the fancy effects or the more grandiose narrative devices.  And I think that a lot of critics felt that Scorsese tried to take the “pulp” and make it operatic.

Shutter Island, adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone (2007), Mystic River (2003)), is a psychological thriller set in a mental institution on an Alcatraz-like island off the coast of Boston.  It stars Scorsese’s favorite actor Leonardo DiCaprio (in his 4th starring role for Scorsese) as a law enforcement officer seeking an escaped inmate.  DiCaprio’s character is coming off a trauma of his own, having tragically lost his wife (the beautiful Michelle Williams), and he’s got some issues of his own.  And ultimately as this mystery/horror film unfolds, DiCaprio’s character’s own sanity becomes more and more suspect and the reality of the surroundings become more and more dubious in their reality.

Oddly enough, I’d read the book, the only of Lehane’s works that I’ve read, so I knew where everything was going, which sort of drew some of the joy and suspense (if not most of it) out of the film.  And the film is over-long at over 2 hours.  Is it sort of a time threshold at which “serious” feature films have to cross to be deemed “serious”?  But I didn’t find the film to be as ponderous or weighted down as a lot of reviews that I’d read had made it out to be.  I’m not really a DiCaprio fan, he doesn’t do a lot for me, though he’s not repellent (like Tom Cruise for instance), and here in this film, I found him quite good (no matter how good or bad you think his Boston accent is).  The film spends a little too long unwinding in the finale in particular, which does support the notion that Scorsese would have done well to tighten his film and align it perhaps more with a Lewton-esque concision.

But who knows?  Scorsese scholarship, assuredly studied in some universities already, will come to find Shutter Island somewhere among the spectrum of his oeuvre, doubtlessly not at the top and doubtfully not at the bottom.

Wendy and Lucy

Wendy and Lucy (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Kelly Reichardt
viewed: 05/15/09

Low-key as it is, this earnest story of a young woman crossing the country in her dying car to take a job in an Alaskan cannery is of the ilk of “realist” cinema or something of naturalism.  It tries to take on the perspective of the down and out, the fringe edge of society and to tell a story vaguely like that of Bicycle Thieves (1948), that is, of loss of the most meaningful thing to a person at the bottom of the social order.  In Bicycle Thieves it’s about the ability to earn a living and much more, but for Wendy, played by Michelle Williams, it’s the only thing that she has that has any meaning, her dog, Lucy.

The whole plot of the film is this: girl and dog, girl loses dog, girl looks for dog, and since I’m not one for spoilers even among these simple plot elements, I’ll leave it up to you if you decide to find out how it ends.

Director Kelly Reichardt has an eye for place and a sense of tone and pacing (it’s slow, mind you), but something just didn’t work in this movie.  It’s the kind of thing, that when it works, it’s wonderfully profound, a moving story, heart-breaking, enlightening.  But the film doesn’t work that well.  I think it’s a combination of the highly banal dialogue (meant to be naturalistic, I think.  The assumption that this is how people talk, and that generally everyone is kind of dull and/or dim-witted).  And the acting by what I am assuming are largely non-actors (again something you see a lot in “realist” films).

Non-actors in the hands of the right directors can convey a naturalism and a reality that really works.  Maybe these were just bad actors with some bad dialogue to work with, I don’t know.  Williams herself is fine.  You follow her, and you care.  But I also found myself frustrated that she didn’t just take the bus to Alaska and when she had over $500 in her pocket let things get so messed up.

Williams, I think, is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood.  I didn’t always think so, but have increasingly thought so for the past year or two.  Here she is with no make-up, meant to be frumpy and mousy, and she is, but she is still so stunning, too.

I wanted to like this film more than I did.  But I didn’t.

Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Charlie Kaufman
viewed: 04/26/09

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman came to be known as one of the most innovative and challenging screenwriters working in Hollywood since the first of his scripts was produced into Being John Malkovich (1999).  Other films produced from his screenplays include Human Nature (2001), directed by Michel Gondry, Adaptation (2002), directed by Spike Jonze who had also directed Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) mishandled by George Clooney, and perhaps most successfully, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), which Michel Gondry also directed.  Somewhere along the lines, Kaufman must have decided that if Clooney could do it, it couldn’t be that hard to direct a film himself.  And Synecdoche, New York is his first film as writer/director.

The thing about Kaufman, for my money, is that he is indeed inventive, disruptive, imaginative, and interesting, in ways that no one else working in Hollywood’s mainstream is.  Synecdoche, New York is a “mind fuck” as many of his narratives wind up being.  In this case, we have a self-loathing theater director and playwright, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who, as his world devolves and his health frightens him, he decides to create a play that is about everything in his life.  With the help of a grant, he rents an enormous warehouse and rebuilds Schenectady, New York, the town in which his characters initially resided.  He then hires and populates his microcosm with actors playing the characters of his life, eventually replacing himself.  As life unfolds, he is recreating it, analyzing it, replaying it, reconstructing it, an ever-increasingly interior version of his world, to the point it becomes like a visual, emotional echo chamber or hall of mirrors.

Kaufman works the absurd in clever, self-conscious ways, with the aging Hoffman, following the character of himself through the set of his play, critiquing his own direction and critique.  The multiples of occurence fold over on themselves to the point that it’s hard to tell what has really happened from what is only reconnoitered in his interpretations.  What I’d read about this film was that critics had admired the fact that Kaufman is dealing with “big” issues: life, death, creativity, loneliness, addressing more solemn and significant themes than one sees in an entire year’s worth of Hollywood films.  Perhaps this is a more European consideration (or perceived to be).  But with Kaufman’s black comedy and self-loathing.

Self-loathing is exactly what has troubled me about Kaufman’s films.  When I first saw Being John Malkovich, which has the wonderful absurdities of the half-floor on the building to the portal into the human body of John Malkovich, I came to quickly realize that his characters are all not just self-loathing, but loathsome.  There is a misanthropy that is so palpable that you come away from his films just feeling kind of sick about humanity, not hopeful, not chuckling at the humor therein.  And this is totally valid and I appreciate it as such.  It’s just it makes you feel unhappy and ill.  And that is kind of the intent.  As clever and interesting his work, it simply isn’t made to entertain and make you smile.  It’s almost intentionally nauseating, nauseating the spirit.

And I have to say, for my money, I don’t “look forward to” his films, though I am drawn to them for their intelligence and innovation.  But sort of knowing that it will leave me feeling sick to myself and unhappy.  Again, I think this is all valid, but I guess this is why when someone gave me the DVD of Being John Malkovich, since I had ended up seeing in twice in the theater by happenstance, that I never watched it again.  It’s clever and bizarre, but upsetting and no fun.

As a director, I can’t fault Kaufman.  He certainly did better than Clooney did with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.  I thought that occasional sequences were paced too quickly in editing and occasional dissonances therein brought my mind to that place, but overall it’s a very competent first film in that sense.  The dark, drabness is depressing.  And I think he managed to achieve his intent.

Lastly, I want to note that Synecdoche, New York is a pun.  It’s not Schenectady, New York, though it’s a virtual homynym.  The meaning that I read was interesting.  Click synecdoche for dictionary.com’s reference.  It’s evident that Kaufman has a layered construct here, deeper and more to it than one glance through.  I’d tell him to “lighten up” but he does what he does and he does it well.  More power to him.  May he make more and more interesting films.

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Ang Lee
viewed: 10/12/06

Overall, it’s a good drama featuring some good performances and some nice cinematography.  Despite The Hulk (2003), Ang Lee has proven himself to be a competent and commercially successful maker of these types of films in Hollywood.  Yeah and the guys and the supporting cast are good.  To be honest, from many perspectives that is all I really have to say about it.

Pressing myself, I thought a lot about this film’s popular description as “the gay cowboy movie”.  And while the characters are ostensibly “gay cowboys”, I pondered whether or not this movie was or wasn’t a “cowboy” movie, a Western in genre terms.  It’s an interesting question and one that requires a definition of what comprises the Western as a genre.  Typically, it’s an historical and location setting, placed in time usually around the expansion of European civilization into the American West or sometimes into the expansion in Australia that parallels the more typically American experience.  There are several Westerns that push out of the 19th Century, the period in which most of the films of the genre are set, and in pushing into the early 20th Century, the films often speculate on the death of the cowboy’s world.  Some films that I can think of having seen that fall into this area of discussion include John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), and Richard Linklater’s The Newton Boys (1998).  There is in many ways some self-referential quality to some of these films since they also address the death of the Western as well, which has been progressively become a less and less common or potentially significant genre for evolving contemporary culture where it once was a significant image in even the popular culture of the American Experience.  It is still incredibly iconic and has great historical significance, of course, but I digress.

The point being that often in these later films addressing the changing world of the West, the characters: true cowboys, either outlaws, lawmen, homesteaders, etc., the men and women (typically men) find themselves at a loss in the modernization of civilization and the result of having “tamed” the West, the job that is the meat and potatoes of the more traditional stories of the genre.  These stories that take place in this transitional time tend to analyze this experience, often quite sadly commenting on the loss of this life despite the positive aspects of “civilization”.

Taking this established critique in mind, I pose this on Brokeback Mountain, which takes place starting in 1963 and ends sometime in the late 1970’s, clearly a long shot later than even the most-late-period settings for traditional Westerns.  What is the life for a cowboy in this time period?  Are these characters really cowboys?  Well, they are in the broader definition of the term and the way that it might be applied to people these days who live within certain lifestyles: careers, etc. that still are tied to herding cattle (or sheep in this instance) and/or working the rodeo circuit or so forth.

For these characters, Jack and Ennis, they are the types of guys who would have been in a more traditional Western, in a sense, but are in a modern Western world, where their work and life is on the fringe of society, but is also encroached in the world of Wyoming, still to this day the most underpopulated state in the nation per capita and very much the Western state.  There is still a lot of breeding of livestock and the remnants of that world still exist in some anachronistic but compromised ways.  Jack and Ennis are hired to take care of a large flock of sheep that are meant to feed illegally on government-protected land, having to live out with the sheep and hide from authorities.  So, even in being given a “cowboy” job, they are compromised by the potentially less-manly management of sheep (i.e. not cows — is this important or just a silly question?) and they are also culturally lost in ways.  Ennis is poor and needs the job because he doesn’t really have any other options in the depressed small towns of Wyoming that have been his center of his life.  Jack is still trying to hold onto this lifestyle, a hanger on as a low-level rodeo entrant and someone who is still attracted to this lifestyle.

As the movie moves on, Ennis carries on with his work as a ranch hand, mostly itinerant and not settled from year to year.  He does spend some time in town and working in a factory, a period of suppression and sadness for him, living in squalid settings away from nature that is also a significant portrayal by Lee.  Jack winds up getting a job selling tractors and combines, stuck in a fruitful though stylistically challenged middle-class suburban lifestyle of the mid-1970’s.  He seems beaten down by his choices in life (obviously hiding his homosexuality and his true desire: to live with Ennis on their own ranch, “their own plot of land”).

Additionally, the happiest times for both of them are set against the landscape of the open country.  This is meant to be Wyoming.  I don’t know that it really is.  But that is somewhat beside the point.  The open country is shot beautifully and Jack and Ennis are most in their element there.  The beauty and pure nature of the country is clearly aligned with their love for one another, I am guessing as also pure and natural.  Even more than that, it is the setting in which their characters are the most “at home” and is the place of their own personal freedom.

There is more here to look at but I am running out of steam.  What also does then this say about their homosexuality?  I am positing that their characters’ personal tragedies include their situation in a world where the connection to nature and the lifestyle of a cowboy is completely marginalized and eroding.  It parallels in some ways their “perditious” love (perditious to the world of their story), also marginalized and unsustainable.  Not that they could have done it or to have even known, but what would it have meant for their characters to move to some place like San Francisco in the late 1970’s where their love and lifestyle would have been more accepted and less-challenged.  Of course, a modern city was also no place for them.  They need the landscape and cowboy life as much as anything.

Well, that probably poorly articulated analysis was the most interesting approach that I could take on this movie, this mild cultural phenomenon of its own in 2005, moving the “gay cowboy” movie into the cineplexes of present-day America, even in a small town in Wyoming one might guess, which I could only guess how different it is in those places these days than the story’s setting of the 1960’s – 1970’s.

Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Erik Skjoldbjærg
viewed: 06/03/06

This movie is bad.

Years ago, in an undergraduate screenwriting class, I noted that one of the most lame ideas is writing a story about a person’s first year in college. It’s often a revelatory time for people, but it’s often generic, despite seeming otherwise, and is deluded with narcissism, as frequently young people are when first released on their own recognizance from the homes of their families and into the world of “college”.

Elizabeth Wurtzel’s version of her first year in college are definitely a little more extreme, peppered with her Rolling Stone-published writing to her incredibly unlikeable selfishness. But ultimately it’s nothing more than a coming-of-age story featuring a lot of blame on her parents and ultimately mixed resolution at the hands of therapy and pharmaceuticals. But some of it is just plain commonplace. Getting laid, getting drunk/stoned, falling in love…who DIDN’T do that their first year in college?

The big question is whether Wurtzel is mentally ill or just a self-centered sociopath. Is that her personality or is that only because she is sick? I guess that the film attempts to ask this question toward the end as she feels her identity changing under the influence of Prozac and though she is a nicer person, she isn’t sure she likes not feeling “herself”.

I don’t know if this source material could have been shaped better. The movie is crap, unsophisticated direction and some intense emoting verge this into comedy territory. Are we supposed to like the protagonist?

Christina Ricci was briefly one of the more interesting young actresses with films like The Ice Storm (1997), Buffalo ’66 (1998), The Opposite of Sex (1998), and Pecker (1998). She was praised for her voluptuous figure, in opposition to the typically anorexic Hollywood actresses, but then ended up losing all her weight and looking very strange. This is not one of her better films.