Christina Ricci is writer Elizabeth Wurtzel and, when she is awarded a scholarship to attend Harvard, her mother (Jessica Lange) is ecstatic. The only problem, if we believe the ad-writer for Miramax Home Entertainment, is that her mother’s high expectations end up leading to “self-destructive behavior and paralyzing depression that reflects an entire generation’s struggle to navigate the effects of divorce, drugs, sex and high expectations!”
What ends up making this pill so difficult to swallow is that the character of Wurtzel is too self-possessed to garner any sympathy. The best example of her endearing behavior is a scene occurring after she has thrust herself upon the kind, loving, generous, etc. Rafe (Jason Biggs) during Christmas. After an already awkward dinner with Rafe’s family, Rafe attempts to help his disabled sister to bed. Wurtzel subsequently witnesses Rafe’s struggle and what most would view as a heroic display of selfless loyalty and compassion. Her discerning interpretation: “you get off on this.”
I couldn’t help being reminded by Jessica Lange’s presence in Nation of a film she made called Frances about another brilliant, troubled young writer named Frances Farmer. That film, also based on a real person, was significant because we actually can feel for the titular character. There is an obvious conflict that her character has with her surroundings and very real and insurmountable obstacles in the form of then-society’s repression of such strong-willed women.
Nation is not unwatchable as it contains some commendable performances and attempts to confront some difficult issues. However, by not providing a character worthy of our concern, we’re not really entitled to see Wurtzel’s story as representing more than her narrow view of her parents’ misguidance. Lange’s Frances represented a generation. Ricci’s Wurtzel doesn’t, and so, when we arrive at the film’s conclusion, the information about Prozac and depression seems merely to have been tacked on to lend underserved weight.