Off Label: A Tragicomically Beautiful Art-Doc


The profound, personal tales stemming from the commercialization and subsequent abuse of prescription drugs deserve a penetrating exposé, but don’t discount October Country filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s tragicomically beautiful art-doc, which sensitively favors unflinching testimonials and visually impressionistic observations over journalistic activism. In a tangentially linked, cleverly edited medley of portraits, a 22-year-old army medic gripes about the inapt pharmaceutical dregs offered him to combat PTSD from his Abu Ghraib stationing, while a former inmate forgives the institutional villains who ruined him through forced medical experiments. Other guinea pigs step forward, like the neo-hippie couple who undergo drug trials to pay for their wedding, and a young Asian American who gets mistaken for a junkie because of his oft-punctured arms. As their stories unfold, the camera seeks out the nearby environment’s fleeting, Malick-friendly poetry—in bonobo babies, insect cocoons, and a passerby carrying a giant cross down the Vegas strip behind a subject sadly crafting balloon animals for tips—but even a graphic combat-death photo montage doesn’t chill the bones quite like the reform-fighting mom who recounts the ghastly specifics of her son’s antidepressant-study-caused suicide.