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4.8.09

Out of Frame: Shrink


Kevin Spacey as Henry Carter in Shrink, directed by Jonas Pate
Jonas Pate's first big solo full-length film, Shrink, is Hollywood at its most self-reflective, if by self-reflective you mean a fictionalization of introspection. The script by fledgling screenwriter Thomas Moffett gradually weaves together characters from different worlds within the city of Los Angeles, all connected to a high-profile therapist to the stars. Kevin Spacey is brilliantly deadpan as the shrink with more problems than his patients. His lined, unshaven face is a map of apathy and denial as he wearily tokes on yet another joint and meets with his dealer periodically in the hope of deadening the pain from his wife's death. Although there is a distinctive voice in there, Shrink obviously recalls many previous films about Hollywood -- the drinking, parties, and swanky lounge life (Swingers), the drugs and psychological anxiety (Crash), the inanity of how decisions about how to make movies are made and the cutthroat greediness that afflicts seemingly normal people as they struggle to get in on the game (The Player), all spliced together by seemingly random personal connections (Short Cuts).

Spacey's performance is spot-on, the sort of devastating psychological character study he created in American Beauty, matched best by the reserved, smoldering work of Keke Palmer (the unforgettable star of Akeelah and the Bee) as Jemma, a student whose troubles in high school land her in Dr. Carter's office. The other roles are less meaty but still charming and fun to watch unfold: Dallas Roberts as a brilliant but vicious and amoral agent with a germ phobia (recalling another obvious influence, Spacey's own role in Swimming with Sharks), Pell James as his sweet-hearted assistant, the lovely Saffron Burrows (who just had a memorable guest role as Death in my new television obsession, Kings, an updated retelling of the Biblical story of King Saul and David) as an older actress counseled out of her marriage by Dr. Carter, Mark Webber as a dopey aspiring screenwriter, and Jack Huston as a rising star actor with a drug problem. Gore Vidal has an entertaining guest spot as a television interviewer, and even Robin Williams is not too annoying as a veteran actor with his own neuroses.

Other Reviews:

Philip Kennicott | USA Today | Roger Ebert | Los Angeles Times | New York Times | Hollywood Reporter | Movie Review Intelligence

The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year, where it seemed to please critics, but its reception has been rockier in national distribution. While enjoyable, the film teeters back and forth between preciously cloying and bleakly cynical. Beyond being derivative of the movies cited above, Shrink relies on some tired metaphors, such as the vista of the Hollywood sign that appears twice, shot not on its glittering white front side, the iconic view, but from the back. The imagery, as in much of the rest of the film, is heavy-handed. While there is promise in Shrink, shown by both Pate and Moffett's snappy dialogue, it is not yet fully formed.

Shrink is now playing at the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C.