When the film adaptation of The Hours came out, my boss at the time said, apropos of Julianne Moore’s character, “You don’t need a reason to be depressed.” That truth kept flashing through my mind during RX, the saddest comedy to come along in quite a while.
In Kate Fodor’s world, managing editor at American Cattle & Swine Magazine Meena (Marin Hinkle) hides in the old-lady underwear section of Bon Ton to cry during her breaks. When drug giant Pharma launches a trial of a new workplace depression medication, Meena is desperate enough to prostrate herself to researcher Phil (Stephen Kunken) for a chance to be included. From there, it’s just a sip and a swallow until Phil and Meena are in love just long enough to make the complications that follow particularly sad.
Fodor has a firm grasp of how people grapple with depression. Meena is frozen in place, unable to leave her job and disgusted with her previous dreams of writing prose poetry. Lacking ambition and, frankly, hope, Meena treads water until the new medication suddenly gives her another chance. The pills are beside the point here; what Meena and everyone for whom she serves as a stand-in need is a glimmer of something on the other side of the dark cloud that hangs over her head.
If RX is ultimately juggling more pills than Fodor and director Ethan McSweeny can keep in the air (Marylouise Burke appears for a few scenes as an elderly woman in Bon Ton, who might as well have “Unknowing Cancer Victim” scrawled across her forehead), Hinkle and Kunken’s performances as faltering, stumbling lovers add a dash of melancholy romance amid the pointed jokes about big pharmaceutical companies and workplace ennui.
Hinkle craftily makes Meena a jittery bundle of nerves, someone who looks as fragile as she feels, thereby putting off everyone around her and exacerbating her depression. And Kunken, as the gallant and tentative Phil, navigates the broken heart subplot with aplomb, never resorting to romcom shorthand. As Meena and Phil’s co-workers, Michael Bakkensen, Paul Niebanck and Elizabeth Rich keep their comedic support fresh and grounded, shying away from playing the stereotypes of their roles.
RX is a comedy—and certainly the audience roared with laughter throughout—but Fodor has hit upon some painful truths about our workaholic culture, truths that aren’t blunted by medication. For anyone who’s ever worked a job they loathed, RX will ring a little too true.
Through March 3, 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St. (betw. Park & Madison Aves.), www.59e59.org; $65.
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