Self-Medicated has racked up enough festival awards to attract the attention of an indie distributor and to win an art house release. The film is ambitious and surprisingly assured for a first time feature filmmaker. Lapica has a good eye for capturing the contrasts in his hometown of Vegas. He shows us the glitzy allure of the strip as well as the suburban landscape where people who aren't tourists spend their time. He also conveys the way people who love each other often have a difficult time showing how they feel.
But the one thing Self-Medicated lacks is a sense of distance. Lapica, drawing on his own raw and emotional experiences, may simply be too close to the material to depict the story without bias. He also makes the mistake of casting himself as Eriksen. It's not that Lapica is a bad actor--in fact he reveals some strong acting skills--but I simply don't buy him as a teenager and that hurts the film's credibility. Plus I think the film would truly benefit from a little distance, and that could be achieved by either having someone else play Eriksen or someone else direct. Eriksen needs to go under the microscope more than he does and Lapica is just not the right person to scrutinize him that closely. Lapica is willing to show flaws in Eriksen's character but he's also too eager to praise his intelligence and to make many of the adults complete fools.
Diane Venora copes with grief and a troubled teen in Self-Medicated (ThinkFilm)
There are aspects of Eriksen's character that are developed well. Lapica conveys the infuriating way Eriksen uses his intelligence in all the wrong ways, and the way Eriksen sometimes just can't control his need to rebel. Lapica also allows the mother to have a wonderful scene in which she writes a letter to her son explaining her actions and trying to convince him of her love. It also helps that Lapica has a skilled actress like Diane Venora playing the mother. Venora makes us understand that the mother is coping with her own grief and is in some ways as troubled as her son. But she also manages to convey the underlying affection and sometimes awkward attempts she makes at reaching at to her son.
Also good are Kristina Anapau as a girl who's not afraid to tell Eriksen that he needs to change, and Greg Germann as a rehab counselor who's not helping as much as he thinks.
Self-Medicated (rated R for language and drug use) is a promising feature debut. Lapica pulls off the film with technical polish but reveals some errors in judgment that come from being too close to the material.
Companion viewing: Shock Corridor, David and Lisa, Panic in Needle Park -----