‘Off Label’: lives defined by prescription drugs
A review of “Off Label,” a documentary that targets pharmaceuticals, portrayed here as an unyielding behemoth that casts a long shadow on the afflicted.
The New York Times
‘Off Label,’ a documentary directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. 80 minutes. Not rated. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
The overcrowded gallery of prescription-drug veterans in the diffuse documentary “Off Label” includes at least one actual war veteran, but nearly all seem to suffer from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder
The source of trauma, as posited by documentarians Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, is pharmaceuticals, a kind of unyielding behemoth perceivable by the long, indifferent shadow it casts on the afflicted.
The cross-section of adherents, skeptics and walking wounded can be, story by story, hair-raising. Some cases are familiar — the mother of a suicide, a bipolar woman muted by bottles upon bottles of pills — but we also hear from a hotel-dwelling old hand at clinical drug trials and a renegade medical anthropologist.
These filmmakers like to turn the spotlight on cultural intersections: a punk concert in the hometown of the Mayo Clinic, its attendees well medicated; or the wedding of a pierced couple who met jumping trains, the man professing his hatred of money yet content to let his wife work.
The ex-soldier’s success with a veterans association, talking through problems rather than popping pills, is one of the bright spots in the film’s cluttered mix of those who need or riskily benefit from drugs.
But the film’s stacked stories naggingly lack a cohesive train of thought beyond the often harmful pervasiveness of pharmaceuticals in American society.