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A teacher's banal life in the city

Chris Eigeman (right) plays a prep school teacher and Ian Holm is his psychiatrist. (NEW YORKER FILMS)

Jake Singer (Chris Eigeman ), the romantically restless prep-school teacher in "The Treatment," is the sort of guy who concocts a run-in with his ex. Naturally, just before he can tell her he wants to try again, she tells him she's getting married. He heads right to his Argentine shrink with the news, and the shrink, played by Ian Holm using a mysteriously Freudian accent, offers the soundest criticism of his patient and this movie: "You make from the world a banal comedy." Jake even gives it a generic name, the shrink says: "Life in the City."

The city is New York, and the life is pretty bland. Directed and co-written by Oren Rudavsky , from a novel by Daniel Menaker , "The Treatment" tries to flesh out Jake's daily routine. We see him teaching about sympathy and character identification in his English class, taking stats during basketball games (he's too namby-pamby to coach), and sticking up for a volatile black student who Jake says is the smart kid in his class.

But "The Treatment" fails to do anything interesting with Jake. Even the arrival of a woman for him to pursue -- a rich widowed mother played with a dispiriting absence of conviction by Famke Janssen -- fails to take the movie anywhere. Attempts to go off the deep end -- Jake's hallucinations of his shrink, say -- are mild at best.

Rudavsky does, however, have something in the scenes between Jake and his students, who are too painfully modern for him. They lack the imagination to read the classics without inflicting realism upon them. He lacks the patience to seduce them into opening their minds. And their intellectual impasse could have made for something fresh, since those encounters have a snap of showmanship. The kids play it cool for each other, while the teacher is desperate to spotlight the one obvious advantage he has over them.

The movie hews closely to books about feckless young (or in this case, youngish) men and "Annie Hall" -era Woody Allen (Singer being a shared surname). The gist of the movie requires Jake to receive the romantic spoils of maturity, regardless of whether it's believable that the widow would go for him. The filmmakers, of course, want us to care enough about this guy to root for him to get his act together.

The trouble is partly that Eigeman , best recognized as the pompously insensitive antagonist in Whit Stillman's movies, has never been that sort of actor. He's aged into a more fully emotional presence, but the core of smugness and entitlement are still there, and "The Treatment" feels too much like an indulgence of both.

Wesley Morris can be reached For more on movies, go to movies/blog.


The Treatment

Directed by: Oren Rudavsky

Written by: Rudavsky and Daniel Housman , adapted from the novel by Daniel Menaker

Starring: Chris Eigeman , Famke Janssen , Ian Holm

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 86 minutes