Shrink Directed by: Jonas Pate Cast: Kevin Spacey, Mark Webber, Keke Palmer, Dallas Roberts Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins Rating: R Release date: July 31, 2009
Plot: When a nationally recognized celebrity psychiatrist finds he’s unable to deal with his own demons, he dives into a spiral of self-medication that nearly closets his inner torment completely. Once he encounters others in similarly dire straights, he’s awakened to a whole world removed from his own weed-addled existence. This is a story about what happens when rocky paths converge to reveal there may be promising at the end of a winding road.
Who’s It For? Fans of self-help books who secretly despise the rehearsed, over-generalized advice their authors sling at them. Those who enjoy Spacey’s occasional attempts to portray middle-aged intellectuals with horridly dank back-stories. Anyone who listens to sad-sack music (Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, PJ Harvey) when they are decidedly sad—Just to enhance the experience.
Expectations: Director Jonas Pate has made a name for himself directing highly touted television programs such as Chuck, Friday Night Lights, and Battlestar Galactica. When film producers come calling, it seems you have been doing something write in the “lesser medium.” Only time will tell how Shrink is received, but it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to tell us this film sits on a mountain of creative potential—both behind the camera and in front of it.
Kevin Spacey as Henry Carter: If Spacey knows anything about acting, it’s how to use subtly to transpire monumental feelings. As Henry, he’s best in his silent moments of disheveled solace. What we see is a fading star of psychiatry slowly losing his grasp on how to help even himself. Amidst a constant stake of altered consciousness, this is a guy who must force himself to operate as a normal human being. Grief is a lingering cloud that stifles one’s ability to assimilate back into a community. As Dr. Carter, Kevin Spacey once again proves there’s no one better at believably portraying someone who’s happy being lost, but eager to find anything (or anyone) to bring him back safely. Score: 9
Mark Webber as Jeremy: The Minneapolis native is certain to become a force in Hollywood. No, not in that “leading man” sort of way. He’s much better as a student at the Mark Ruffalo School of the Big Screen Everyman [MRSBSE]. Awkward, without having to resort to over-the-top physical humor. Attractive, without causing all females in his presence to drool, waiver, and ultimately faint. His talent can be found in the film's quieter moments—those scored by elevator Indie rock ditties that contribute the context of a scene where a young man is finally beginning to find himself. Jeremy is a young screenwriter who finally finds his voice, but not without hitting some significant roadblocks along the way. Webber is fantastic because we believe him. Score: 8
Keke Palmer as Jemma: Child actors are usually asked to portray children. Palmer was asked to carry about as heavy a weight any juvenile can be asked to on the big screen. It’s funny, some kids tend to overact to get something heart-felt across and with this kid, and it seemed to come so easily. That’s not to say her talents necessarily overshadow her youthful counterparts, it just seems as though she’s more comfortable in front of the camera behaving as someone else. Does that make sense? Think how naturally Drew Barrymore seized our attention as a child? Palmer has that same genuine ‘glow,’ and it’s amazing how believable she is as a young woman whose mother left her in the worst possible way. She’ll have a daunting task in topping this effort. Truly sublime. Score: 9
Dallas Roberts as Patrick: Here’s an actor whose moment in the limelight has been a long time coming. With various bit parts in major films (most notably as Sun Records founder Sam Phillips in Walk the Line), Roberts has caught out attention a great deal while being asked to act in the shadow of stars. ‘Patrick’ is Ari Gold on crack. His arrogant confidence masks a horrific fear of just about everything his mile-a-minute mind can conjure up. Few actors could give us a role like this without annoying us. Maybe it’s his limited screen time that makes this the case, but he certainly uses his onscreen moments effectively. If there’s a final ingredient a film like this needs desperately it’s timely comic relief. Enter a highly nuanced, borderline brilliant Dallas Roberts. Score: 9
Talking: Great dialogue, but a times it’s a bit preachy. Maybe not preachy, but the screenwriter certainly tried showing off in intermittent segments. The characters are smart people, it’s just that it would have been nice to hear them say something that wasn’t absolutely ‘perfect’ on occasion. You know those moments just after you walk away from someone you really wanted to tell off, and then think of something clever to say. The people in this film, as messed up as their lives have become, have never had that problem. Score: 7
Sights: When it comes to Los Angeles, there are few prettier nooks than the ones found in the Los Feliz area. Most of this film takes place there, and it’s a visually comforting backdrop for such a downtrodden motion picture. The lack of flashback sequences really helped. You’ll get what I mean when you see it: There are several moments that call for them, and director Jonas Pete refuses to serve them up. Good call. Score: 8
Sounds: Standard Indie-Rock soundtrack for an Indie-feeling film. Just enough singer-songwriter underscore without it becoming annoying. Nothing really sticks into your head, and that’s what great background music is supposed to be. Spacey’s soothing baritone sounds are about as heartbreaking as his character’s life has become. This is why he’s perhaps the greatest working actor out there. Score: 9
Best Scene: When we first meet Dr. Henry Carter he’s preparing for an ordinary day at the office … by inhaling enormous amounts of weed. The camera work assists our interpretation of how sensational that sort of experience must be, but not without steering our opinion of the character into a downward spiral. We get the impression this is going to be someone who’s fun to watch, but certainly wouldn’t be worth emulating.
Ending: This film actually wraps up quite nicely. The loose ends are tied, but not tied down. You wind up leaving the theater uncertain whether or not everyone’s lives are better, but happy knowing they couldn’t have gotten any worse. It does take an improbable turn just before it ends, but some great writing makes the unbelievable seem authentic. You’ll see what I mean.
Questions: Would an agent as relentlessly cold-blooded as ‘Patrick’ actually reveal his good side? Doubtful, but these are the sort of questions that will arise throughout your film-going experience.
Rewatchability: In the theater? Not necessary. At home? Many times.
The best part about Kevin Spacey’s role in American Beauty was that he was an everyman who decided being an everyman wasn’t for him. As Dr. Henry Carter he’s a famous caretaker of Hollywood’s most delicate minds, and truly wants to be able to slink back into ‘everyman’ status. It’s an astounding conundrum, but an all-too-perfect role for the aging movie star. As actors transition between age groups, their roles become tougher to nail down. Not for Spacey. He carries this film on his back, and the deft, hyper-talented supporting players more than carry their lesser loads. Shrink effectively shrinks the world into tiny segments of fractured lives and provides a telling tale about how loss and love may very well be synonyms in the harshest sort of way. This is a film you almost have to go see with someone you care about because it’s a reminder that life’s too short to be lived as a lonely soul.
Final Score: 8/10