Self Medicatedwriter/director/producer/star Monty Lapica has created a film that is so moving that most audience members will surely know (or, God help him/her, be) someone like 17-year-old Andrew Eriksen. Eriksen (Lapica) is his Las Vegas high school's starting shortstop, the leader of a group of hearty-partying boys whom we first see popping tourists walking the Strip with paintball pellets, and one of those kids who is so much smarter than his teachers that he's essentially checked out of formal studies. That's right: Andrew is a campus godhead.
But the two most important women in his life, his mother and the girl he's sweet on, see Andrew spinning out of control amid drugs, arrests and an inability to deal with the loss of his father several years earlier. When his mom (Diane Venora) confronts Andrew, he turns it around onto her own addiction to prescription pills—and in a most verbally abusive way. So she gets Andrew "kidnapped" and shuttled to a locked-down facility for troubled teens near St. George, Utah, which he soon discovers is a mere pit stop on the way to a Samoan boot camp. A caring counselor advises Andrew that if he'd essentially get with the program, he'd be in and out of treatment in just six months before legal emancipation arrives with his 18th birthday. But that's a lifetime when you're 17, and Andrew responds the way he does to any challenge by authority: by lashing out at them, publicly belittling them and devising ways around their rules—and even incarceration.
Self Medicated works as well as it does because of fine ensemble acting, especially from veteran actors Venora (Heat and The Insider); Michael Bowen, who here is simply a sadistic counselor as opposed to his Buck the rapist in Kill Bill, Vol. 1; and Greg Germann, whose caring counselor is quite the opposite of the shark-like Richard Fish he played all those years on Ally McBeal.But the real discovery here is Lapica. Truth be told, it is fairly obvious we're watching a 24-year-old play a 17-year-old, but you go with it because the chiseled, 6-foot-1 Lapica has charisma to burn and movie-star good looks (think of a blond, slightly more Aryan-looking young Clint Eastwood). Now 26, Lapica's tight smile would work perfectly in one of those thrillers where the serial killer has charisma to burn and movie-star good looks.
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He's written a story that is mature beyond his years, and it comes into Newport having already picked up a ton of hardware on the festival circuit. Surely what judges and audiences are responding to is the hyperpersonal nature of Self Medicated. Like Andrew, Lapica is from Vegas, he played baseball in high school, he and his mother fell into emotional tailspins when his father died young, he went from straight A's to who cares, he got into drink and drugs, and his mother responded by having him kidnapped and taken to a Salt Lake City halfway house. He escaped from there and—just like in Self Medicated—from a transfer in Honolulu to a boot camp in Samoa.
As you hope will happen with Andrew as the end credits roll, Lapica turned his life around. He reconciled with his mother and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his lifetime dream of becoming a filmmaker. He graduated with top honors from Loyola Marymount University's film school, which is where he outlined his debut feature, hoping it would spotlight abuses in locked-down facilities for troubled teens.
On his own, he raised $1 million in private funds to produce Self Medicated, and the dialogue and pacing are what you'd expect from a seasoned pro. Lapica frames Vegas, Sedona and St. George like someone who's brushed that dirt off his boots for years, as opposed to a tourist (or film crew) just there visiting. It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with when he turns his camera on parts unknown.
SELF MEDICATED SCREENS AT EDWARDS ISLAND, NEWPORT BEACH. THURS., APRIL 27, 6:30 P.M.