Doodad Kind of Town

Buyer’s Remorse
December 4, 2009, 1:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve often waxed enthusiastic here about the convenience of On Demand, the service that allows me to order movies on my TV with just a few clicks of the remote control. I admit it, I’m lazy. Being able to pick out a movie and enjoy without getting out of the Lazy Boy is a lovely luxury to have after a long, hard day at work.

But every once in awhile, this little convenience ends up biting me in the ass.

‘Cause every once in awhile, I pick the wrong movie. I decide to watch something I think will be good, and within ten minutes, I realize I’m going to hate it. And all I can think is “I just gave the cable company $6.99 for this piece of crap and now I’m stuck.” If only Comcast had a 15-minute, money-back-guarantee period during which you could “return” a movie that wasn’t to your liking. Alas, no such policy has yet been implemented.

Which is way I ended up suffering part way through “Shrink” last night, before I finally cut my losses and decided to catch up on “Top Chef” reruns.

What went wrong? Andrew O’Hehir liked “Shrink.” Loved, loved, loved it in fact. (Here’s his review. ) A sample line of the critic’s unbridled enthusiasm: “The tremendous scene (Kevin Spacey) has with an uncredited Robin Williams. . . should be required viewing for every acting student in the world.” Wow! O’Hehir is rarely this hyperbolic, and I rarely disagree with him. But there’s a first time for everything.

Me, I started losing interest in “Shrink” before we even got through the opening credits. It opens with scenes of a dissolute-looking Spacey – getting out of bed in the morning as it’s taking every ounce of his strength to do, smoking a joint in the shower, walking on the beach, and finally sitting in a recording studio where he’s reading for an audiobook on happiness in a voice that suggests he hasn’t actually experienced a shred of happiness in years. Intercut with these are brief scenes of other characters – a pregnant woman, a frustrated, chain-smoking screenwriter who hurls his laptop onto the floor when the ideas aren’t flowing, a woman at the supermarket with a baby on her hip, an unhappy bespectacled teenage girl, and so on and so on. I guess I was supposed to wonder “Who are these people? How will they all come together?” but frankly I didn’t care. Because there was nothing remotely distinctive or intriguing about any of them. They were just people going through the paces of their day.

Eventually we learn that Spacey is a L.A.-based psychiatrist to the stars. Among his patients are a Bluetooth-wearing producer who may have OCD or may just be an overbearing asshole (it’s hard to tell) and the aforementioned Williams as an actor who convinces himself he’s a sex addict to avoid facing the fact that he’s an alcoholic. Spacey’s wife has recently committed suicide, and he’s chosen to deal with it by smoking massive amounts of pot and doing little else. The teenage girl from the early scenes (Keke Palmer) comes to him as a pro-bono patient; her mother has recently died, and she dealt with it by smashing a mirror in the girl’s room at school because she didn’t want to see her own face. Even though I shut this off after about 25 minutes, I’m pretty sure that Spacey’s interactions with his teenage patient would force him to come to terms with his own grief. I couldn’t begin to tell you what was going to happen to the other characters.

Blah, blah, blah. Let me cut to the chase here. Even in its first 15 minutes, “Shrink” feels like it was constructed from a “Make Your Own Low-Budget Independent Film” kit. (Step 1: Create ten characters. Step 2: Give each character a self-contradictory quirk: e.g. a psychiatrist who writes a book on happiness but isn’t happy himself; a type-A movie producer who’s terrified of germs; an alcoholic who thinks he’s a sex addict. Step 3: Make at least one character a pot smoker…) Not one minute of “Shrink,” not a single character, feels real. And although all those characters apparently do come together at some point (the pregnant woman, for example, turns out to be the producer’s long-suffering assistant), there’s not even a clear sense that they’re all in the same geographic location from those early, slapdash, show-nothing scenes.

And as for Spacey, well, I like my Kevin Spacey with a little edge. You know, the off-kilter line readings, the manic glint of danger in his eyes. Here, his stoner shrink character is subdued, numb and dead-eyed – and no damn fun at all. He ought to be the life force at the center of the movie, instead he’s the black hole. (And for the record, I think a depressed character can be the lifeblood of a film. But Spacey’s not even interesting to watch here, and that’s a first.)

Oh, and that scene with Robin Williams? “Shrink” is filmed with a cinema verite vibe somewhat reminiscent of last year’s “Rachel Getting Married” (but without the persistent shaky cam). And what struck me most about that scene was that if ever there were two actors who don’t work in cinema verite mode, they’d be Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams. Do you ever, ever, for one minute watch Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams and forget that you’re watching Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams? I’m not sure what Andrew O’Hehir was getting at and I doubt I’ll ever find out. “Shrink” will not be making a return trip to my DVR anytime soon.

“Top Chef,” however, turned out to be great. I’m rooting for Kevin (Gillespie, not Spacey) to go all the way.