Pity the poor ‘Shrink,’ it’s got serious issues

Shrink Kevin Spacey plays a psychiatrist who has been depressed since his wife died. (Jihan Abdalla/Roadside Attractions )
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / July 31, 2009

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In “Shrink,’’ Kevin Spacey plays a Los Angeles psychiatrist, pothead, and best-selling author who’s been depressed since his wife killed herself. Folks like Robin Williams, Saffron Burrows, Dallas Roberts, and Keke Palmer play the patients. They’re all thumbnail sketches masquerading as characters. And for about 10 minutes, I played along. The movie introduces most of these people during the opening title sequence, and starts forcing connections. The lovelorn valet/screenwriter (Mark Webber) has a “Graduate’’ poster in his apartment; the troubled teen (Palmer) has cut school to watch “The Graduate.’’

This is the sort of movie where the teen will run into the obsessive-compulsive talent agent (Roberts), with a hands-free headset on his ear, in slowest motion outside the shrink’s office. She will pick up a script he dropped; you will wonder how an obsessive-compulsive does such a thing. Needless to say everyone becomes tangled up in everyone else. Or, to invoke a similar Oscar-winning movie-turned-television series, they crash into each other. This is an “of course’’ sort of movie. Of course, the valet/screenwriter sleeps with the agent’s pregnant assistant (Laura Ramsey). Of course, she shows his screenplay to the agent, who, of course, had once left the valet/screenwriter with his car.

“Shrink,’’ like “Crash,’’ is also a montages-set-to-dreamy-music movie. When filmmakers can’t think of how to dramatize relationships, they make a little music video that shows characters interacting with each other, with themselves, or with drugs. There are at least two such videos here.

As for the shrink, he refuses an intervention staged by friends, former clients, and his father (a reupholstered Robert Loggia). He turns to his young drug dealer for advice. He has a breakdown on a talk show hosted by Gore Vidal. He holds a stoned pity session with the valet/screenwriter, who’s also a relative (a “step-godbrother’’). Of course.

While writer Thomas Moffett and director Jonas Pate strain to get more “American Beauty’’ drollery from Spacey, everything he does on screen here he’s done before. Yet Spacey is an instinctive enough actor to make it seem like he’s made it all up. He’s not taking it easy, but there’s nothing challenging about this material, which is more concerned with striking the poses of good drama (those montages, say) than with providing the characters anything natural to do. They’re cogs in a screenplay.

“Shrink’’ wants to tell us how connected all our pain is and how even the most selfish and annoying people are capable of goodness. I didn’t believe any of it, mostly because the movie takes so many lazy, tidily resolved shortcuts to establishing a working cosmos of citizens. It’s Coincidence City.

This movie brings to mind much better cable TV shows like the marijuana comedy “Weeds,’’ the one-on-one psychodramas of “In Treatment,’’ and the astonishingly cinematic “Breaking Bad,’’ in which a terminally ill teacher resorts to crime to make ends meet. Entertainment has turned upside down once certain television makes you believe you’re in a movie theater, and some movies send you feeling around for the remote.

Wesley Morris can be reached at


Directed by: Jonas Pate

Written by: Thomas Moffett

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Mark Webber, Keke Palmer, Saffron Burrows, Dallas Roberts, Robert Loggia, and Robin Williams

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 104 minutes

Rated: R (drug content throughout, and pervasive language including some sexual references)

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