Off Label was one of my must-see films for this Year’s Hot Docs film festival. It presented itself as a film dealing with one of the biggest problems in today’s modern culture: Our society's complete dependence on pharmacology–especially mind and mood altering drugs to deal with depression and anxieties.
There are many worrying aspects of this drug culture that big business has created from the marketing of the drugs, safety issues, and addiction. However you will not find many answers or even deep probing questions asked in this documentary, the filmmakers seem more interested in detailing the lives of a few colourful characters they have met.
Most of the film is spent tracking the lives of a few individuals who make their living (for what it is) as test subjects or human guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical companies. These individuals who lie their way into drug studies are on the outskirts of society splitting their time as a test subject and for some cases living on the streets. Although these people are fascinating to learn about they have very little to do with our drug obsessed culture.
The film then side tracks from the guinea pigs to other unrelated people from a young man dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome from his time in Iraq, a bi-polar woman and her suitcase of drugs and a woman whose son commits suicide in a mental hospital. The filmmakers do little work to tie these stories together with anything more than the obvious implication that these people have all taken pharmaceuticals.
There is a really great documentary to be made on the pharmaceutical industry–there might even be a few out there already as this is not a new issue. However, this film is not it. Rarely do filmmakers miss the point of their own thesis but this does seem to be a rare case where that's just what happened.
Directed by: Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher
Produced by: Anish Savjani & Vincent Savino
Written by Jason Poynton
Jason works on his feet all day, so when he gets some downtime his greatest joy is to settle in at a movie theatre and see a couple movies back-to-back, or in the the case of film festival season race around the city and see four or five in a day. Of course after the movies it’s time to eat and drink and talk it out with some friends.