With so many people interviewed, it's quite an impersonal affair
A documentary is a terrible thing to waste and it's sad to say that Off Label, a film concerning America's dependency on pharmaceuticals and the growing reliance on substances that are supposed to treat whatever pain or impairment we have, is a dry and relatively unfocused documentary. It flies by in seventy minutes, examining several people who have been severely harmed by drug testing or drug use in the past years. As we watch these disjointed interviews, punctuated only by a loquacious anthropologist who gives us insight into the pharmaceutical industry in the United States, we don't learn much about the subjects or the industry other than what it is happening to a number of people thanks to drugs is sad.
We focus on a number of different individuals, many of them once or current "professional guinea pigs," or people that had been offered up at one point or another to take drugs with uncertain effects to show their effectiveness or lack thereof. One of which was a man who in prison at the age of twenty was subjected to such studies that made his fingernails itchy and bloody and created pulsating sores all throughout his body. This was a result of a doctor who would come in and drug inmates, not so much as caring what would happen to them. In 2013, he is still suffering from the effects.
Other people we see are a rock-and-roll couple whose wedding is being funded by money they get for being professional guinea pigs, a mother whose son committed suicide after participating in testing a new drug, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a woman who resides in a Bigfoot museum, and others. Because each person is only examined for a short amount of time, the film comes off as very shallow and impersonal, with directors Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri seemingly uninterested in extending their message further than a brief cinematic diversion. This is quite upsetting, as pharmaceutical dependency and abuse is a tremendously hot topic, and a documentary on such could've provoked untold discussion (just look at films like Food, Inc. and A Place at the Table and how they brewed up discussion. Off Label will inspire nothing more than a brief footnote. The impact of a documentary like this could've been stunning and astronomical, but instead it's reduced to mostly common-knowledge; drugs hurt people and thousands have become harmed by the side effects - that much we know.
Let's say you're searching for a documentary that examines healthcare in America, and regardless of your feelings about it, you want an informative, enlightening film that puts a magnifying glass to an issue that needs attention. Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare is an elaborate, shockingly unbiased documentary that does just that, and is currently available on DVD. I suggest you choose wisely.
Directed by: Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri.
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