Writer-director Monty Lapica dramatizes his personal hell in “Self-Medicated,” a teen-angst indie whose protagonist experiences addiction, kidnapping and institutional horror before escaping from confinement, confronting his demons, and achieving recovery.
And clearly, this young filmmaker has a story to tell. Problem is, he should have let somebody else tell it. As is, he underwhelms us with the agony and the triumph.
A lack of skill and focus dooms this undiluted drama, in which Lapica also stars. He plays Andrew, an intelligent Las Vegas high-schooler who, shattered by his father’s death, has tumbled into a self-destructive downward spiral of drugs and crime.
To save him from himself, Andrew’s mother (Diane Venora), who has a pill problem of her own, pays to have Andrew kidnapped from his bedroom and locked up in a tough — and, it turns out, shady — rehab facility. Subjected to physical violence, psychological abuse and moronic forms of therapy in this modern-day asylum where independent spirits don’t fare nicely, Andrew escapes. Eventually, with the support of a girlfriend (Kristina Anapau), he takes control of his life.
Lapica’s fact-based material is surely cinema-worthy, and the rawness and intensity that Lapica brings to this feature debut merit mention in a climate where teen-trauma tales generally are light and comic.
But the movie is clunky going. Lapica simply doesn’t display the proficiency necessary to enable his ambitions to amount to much.
Fractured in focus, the film tries, onone level, to be an issue drama about the conditions at some locked-down juvenile institutions. Stock characters (including a male version of Nurse Ratched) and doctor-patient interactions that defy credibility thwart the film’s attempt to soar as such.
The movie also takes shape as a mother-son story, shades of “Requiem for a Dream.” Here, it is impaired by TV-movie-level shallowness and a failure to develop Venora’s caring but misguided character.
As a portrait of a troubled kid, finally, the film can’t overcome the performance by Lapica, a young actor with movie-star looks and a bold quality that proves more admirable than effective. Having shot the film when he was 24, Lapica never convinces us that Andrew is 17. The cliches that dominate Andrew’s upturn — a scattering-the-ashes moment and a wisdom-imparting bum, among them — counteract any existing emotional truth.
As for the occasional merit, the film’s starkly glimmery look, especially in the early scenes, successfully reflects the allure and soullessness of the Vegas setting.
Starring: Monty Lapica, Diane Venora, Kristina Anapau, Michael Bowen
Written and directed by: Monty Lapica
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes