Salt Lake Film Festival
Directors: Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher
Drug documentaries are often indistinguishable from one another, following the same formula of "junkie's life sucks, junkie tries to get clean, junkie fails," with reality show, "Intervention"-style interviews––which is why I tend to avoid them. The premise behind Off Label intrigued me, however, as it focused on prescription medication rather than addicts. The documentary follows a handful of people affected by "legal drugs" along with an anthropologist studying the behind-the-scenes of the industry. What made this film so unique were the characters whose stories were presented. From a homeless, volunteer test lab "guinea pig" to a young Iraq War veteran struggling with PTSD, each person has a very different relationship with prescription medication, able to articulate why they condemn or rely on the meds in a way that allowed the audience to empathize rather than judge. The subject matter was heavy, but the filmmakers provided moments of laughter through the character's personalities, one of whom owned a Bigfoot museum with her husband. There are also moments of heartfelt emotion and even terror, as one of the interviewees, a mother whose son committed suicide after spiraling deeper into mental illness as part of his psychiatrist's medical study group, describes in a shaking voice the gruesome and obviously drug-fueled way he chose to kill himself. The film definitely has an agenda, and spreads the message that prescription drugs can be more harmful than helpful, and are prescribed by physicians much too candidly and ineffectively. Off Label will make you think twice as you pop your anti-depressant, guaranteed.