There's no question that writer-director-star Monty Lapica put a lot of heart into Self Medicated, his semiautobiographical debut feature, which has collected awards at every regional film festival from Santa Fe to Flint. And yet he never extricates his personal story from the teen-angst clichés and banal morality at its core; it's as if his life followed the script to a really bad TV movie. What begins as garden-variety teenage rebellion, sparked by the death of the hero's father and his mother's reliance on prescription meds, quickly morphs into an ersatz One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest once the action shifts to a youth psychiatric facility. The tone is hysterical, which perhaps befits a movie about a teenager who's committed for, well, acting like a teenager.
Looking far too old for the role, the 24-year-old Lapica has made a big mistake in casting himself, because his script requires him to go toe-to-toe in shouting matches with a much more seasoned supporting cast. Raised in a Las Vegas suburb, never the healthiest environment for a troubled young man, Lapica runs afoul of the law when he and his buddies perform drive-by shootings with paint-guns on the Strip. In spite of Lapica's off-the-charts IQ, his GPA has plummeted from a 4.0 to a 1.6, and he's been acting out in various ways. That's of great concern to mother Diane Venora, whose prescription drug addiction doesn't give her much moral leverage. Nevertheless, Venora hands over guardianship to an institute that kidnaps Lapica in the middle of the night and drags him to a locked-down psych ward for heavy-handed therapy sessions.
In the Nurse Ratchet role, Michael Bowen goes deliriously over the top, consigning patients to the "essay pit" for swearing, and taking a personal interest in Lapica that's somewhere between Jeffrey Jones in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. Though it looks good and obviously means a lot to its creator, Self Medicated never goes for the subtle revelation when a more melodramatic device is available, whether it's trumpeting Lapica's Good Will Hunting-like natural genius or introducing a magical homeless black man that exists only in his head. It's a personal story that feels like it's been constructed from other movies.