If ever a documentary topic lent itself to the facts-figures-and-outrage approach, it's Big Pharma's pervasiveness in modern medicine. Instead of taking the obvious route, the new film
The title refers to the dispensing of drugs for conditions beyond their
The most provocative profiles involve people who have participated in clinical drug trials — three voluntarily and one as a prison inmate in the 1960s. The film finds a narrative through line in these professional guinea pigs: a fascinating glimpse of vulnerable lives in the margins.
Listening to a woman describe the details of her son's suicide is the toughest part of the movie to endure, and an Iraq vet's photographic evidence of the horrors he witnessed isn't easy viewing. There's consolation, though, in the ways they've turned their pain into purposeful action against the blind rush toward psychotropics.
With its focus on intimate detail, "Off Label" is not a conventional "issue film" reaching for conclusions. Palmieri and Mosher have taken on a huge and urgent topic, and their work's impact rests on their refusal to tell viewers how to feel.
Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle's Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles.