“I remember being in a panic one day at school when I realized that I could not even fake being the old Lizzy anymore. I had, indeed metamorphosed into this nihilistic, unhappy girl. Just like Gregor Samsa waking up to find he’d become a six-foot-long roach, only in my case, I had invented the monster and now it was overtaking me. This was what I’d come to. This was what I’d be for the rest of my life.”
For the 18 – 24 year old version of Jonathon Saia, Prozac Nation resonated more than any other book. I had finally thought someone had crawled inside my head and understood the deep, lonely misery of my depression – a depression that felt unwarranted. A depression that felt self-authored. A depression that made me feel important, like I was joining the ranks of the army of artists who had come before me and used their pain to create beauty. The pale september that I wore like a dress those years, proudly flaunting my depth, my mystery, yet gradually, then suddenly realizing that my salvation, while it may look like it can come from without, really only can come from within.
Wurtzel’s debut memoir is desperately self-aware. She is a brilliant woman who is writing with the hindsight of her problems. She doesn’t justify her irrational behavior as much as she explains it to the best of her ability. Her book is self-indulgent without being narcissistic, extremely personal without being insular, and romantic without ignoring that the romance from the movies is a lie. At every turn, she knows that she is to blame for her problems, yet never seeks our sympathy. What could come off as just another spoiled girl from New York City saddled with the remnants of her parents’ divorce, Wurtzel ends up being the voice of her generation, the embodiment that Reality Bites, an Anais Nin for the ’80s, showing us the complexities of living in the modern world with a cynical eye towards herself, reminding us all that depression – in all of its forms – is real, can affect everyone, and yes, can be overcome.
Lizzy (Christina Ricci) is an up and coming writer with a scholarship to Harvard. Her piece about her parents’ divorce appeared in Seventeen magazine, complete with the heartwarming reunion between her and her father. Only this is a lie. Her father had abandoned her for four years. But Lizzy, knowing what the world wanted to hear and that it would be good for her career, decided to give them the happy ending they sought. Don’t worry about Lizzy. Everything is going to be just fine.
Only everything is not going to be just fine. Lizzy is suffering from depression. It takes over every aspect of her life. Her writing, her relationships, and her health. Her mother (Jessica Lange) tries to help her. Her friend (Michelle Williams) tries to help her. Her therapist (Anne Heche) tries to help her. Even her boyfriend Rafe (Jason Biggs) tries to help her. But Lizzy is deep in her own vortex, unable to see outside of her pain, taking drugs and drinking to help block out what has already knocked down the door and come inside.
While the film adapts most of the conventional scenes – overdosing in the bathroom, fights with her parents, falling in love, and various therapy sessions – what truly makes the book come to life are Wurtzel’s asides; her monologues to the reader regarding her emotional states and her decisions. Of course, these are the first things that always go by the way side when one adapts a book for the screen. These are seen as didactic and laborious for the viewer. But when you are writing a film about the effects of depression, to only focus on the external instead of the battle within her own mind that causes the spiral of events in the “real world” is a horrible mistake.
The film fast forwards through a series of unfortunate episodes that lack any kind of gravitas or resonance because we are not grounded in Lizzy’s struggle. Yes, she has told us that she is depressed. But we never feel that she is depressed. We never understand what that means to Lizzy, what she is really going through. All we know is that she is a mess who can’t get out of her own way. By neglecting the reality of her pain, the depths of it, we end up judging Lizzy, looking on her as a whiny girl who needs to just shut up and get her life together. The film strips any of the compassion we feel for Lizzy in the book and strips Wurtzel’s own humorous take on her disease in lieu of misplaced melodrama, wrought with overacting. She is the only character that is half-way developed and yet she is barely developed at all as anything more than a morose girl, full of promise. And then the film becomes this sudden indictment on America’s obsession with pharmaceuticals without seeing the changes – positive or negative – that Prozac brings. We are TOLD that she is different, but never SEE anything different about her except maybe she is yelling a little bit less at everyone.
Christina Ricci was the perfect choice to play Lizzy, a woman who has made her career on playing angst-riddled teens. Ricci has also been very public about her own history with depression. Ironically though, Ricci seems to merely be going through the beats of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown instead of fully embodying it. It’s not that she is incapable of playing a difficult character with layers. DeeDee Truitt (The Opposite of Sex) and Selby Wall (Monster) are both complex, angry, young, confused women to which she has given beautiful life (and been robbed by the Academy for nominations…). Yet Lizzy, a woman on paper that seems to be closer to anyone Ricci has ever played, comes off as false and without an earnest connection.
Prozac Nation wrapped in 2000, yet didn’t get a release until 2004 when it went straight to Showtime. Wurtzel claims it’s because Miramax’s film probably sucked and they were afraid of releasing a dud; Miramax claims they withheld the film from theatres because of some incendiary comments Wurtzel made about 9/11 (“I had not the slightest emotional reaction…I just felt like everyone was overreacting…”). Both may be true, but I have to side with Elizabeth. This movie sucks.