Shrink, to imbibe on the film's marijuana thread, hotboxes itself into the world of independent film. You can tell this because the loudest thing in the movie is the score, and the camera is only still for "character centered cleverly" scene openers. I'm not knocking it, though. I'm knocking independent film for having such lame, recognizable qualities in recent years. Not all independent film, Constant Complainers, but the "movable portraits of the somberness of humanity" flicks. Shrink, however, rises above such films due to A+ casting, a revised-until-solid script, and the kind of non-closure that doesn't gray your hair with its lack of fore-thought. Hearing of this movie originally, I recall a line attached that went something like "Kevin Spacey's return to acting." As if a so-so Superman movie, cruddy biopic, and stint in the theater took him away from "acting." If Harper Lee writes even a fucking cookbook, that's a return. Sorry.
Let's introduce this large cast and their connecting character arcs. Dr. Henry Carter (Kevin Spacey Returns) is a published psychologist in Los Angeles whose clients are mostly in the Hollywood system. There's germ-hating talent agent Patrick (Dallas Roberts), whose preggo assistant Daisy (Pell James) ends up reading a script by fledgling writer Jeremy (Mark Webber). Jeremy's mom was godmother to Henry's recently deceased wife, so the men are good friends. Henry has been in a deep funk since her death and smokes a lot of weed. I think I smoke a lot of weed, compared to a dog, say, but Henry pulls joints out in pediatrician's men's rooms. He does this to cope with his grief and attention-starved patients, not to mention his psychologist father Robert (Robert Loggia), who introduces him to a ridiculously mature Keke Palmer as grief-infused Jemma, a school-skipping film-lover. On the outskirts of B-story land, we have client/patient Kate (Saffron Burrows), an actress fighting her age and loveless marriage (enter Henry Carter). Jack Huston (lovechild of Russell Brand and Vinnie Jones) is Patrick's client Shamus, an actor addicted to everything but an agenda. Gore Vidal plays himself in one scene. Robin Williams has a decent occasional cameo as an actor past his personal prime. The last, but not least enjoyable, character to mention is Jesus (Jesse Plemons), who is Henry's dealer, but also so much more. Some of these extended stories, though fully developed for what they are, don't carry the impact implied, but their existence keeps the film from including zoned-out wide-shots of nothing, of which there are blessedly few.
The beginning of Shrink confused me, because so many people pop up on screen, and I couldn't find a tone. It turns out this was the kind of thing that kept happening, but I came to enjoy it more than lambaste it. Each character is coping with something, and that's all that needs to be known, really. The strong emotional core is in Henry and Jemma's comparable sadness (which other reviews will ruin for you), and their inability to convey these feelings with any semblance of self-credibility. Drug use in the film is frequent, but it's only addiction, rather than casual use, that seems to be under fire here. Juxtaposed with heavier moments are satirical sequences that shit all over those behind the scenes of filmmaking. Shrink's offbeat humor soars here, and it's a nice change that never switches gears violently. Some things are broad, as in a scene where a table of producers pitch ideas for a project to Patrick for client Kate, but most contain just the right amount of character neuroses filtered through a Hollywood that knows no moral boundaries.
At his father's insistence, Henry reluctantly takes on Jemma as a pro bono case. In these, more than in other patient scenes, I was close to angered by Henry's preoccupation with pot. Palmer's bald-faced blahness just begs for understanding, and her lack of involvement frustrates Henry until he understands where she's coming from. The one fault here may be an inference that doctors only care about patients whose troubles they share. In true "who cuts a barber's hair?" fashion, Henry's only relief comes in moments where he speaks from his heart and not his doctorate. Scenes with dealer Jesus initially seem gratuitous, but become homage to world-weary bartenders lending an ear to the problematic; the difference here being Henry is versed in the shit, and Jesus works out of his car. Henry's other port in a storm is the reconnection with Jeremy, who is a poor screenwriter/valet desperate for whatever attention he can get. He takes most of Henry's words to heart, sometimes against Henry's intentions. Jeremy's writer's block fuels many of his actions without anyone being the wiser.
In non-Henry news, Jeremy and Patrick's assistant Daisy hit it off, and their scenes together are those of the awkwardly romantic sort, but are no less legit than any others. You really understand where everyone is coming from in Shrink, and the dialogue is more amusing than it even needs to be, particularly in scenes with these two. That's not negative criticism. Shamus, before hitting a kind of rock-bottom, has a thing with a whorebag (Laura Ramsey) who tries smarming her way into Patrick's agency. Let me say here that Dallas Roberts is a beast as Patrick. He's such a turd of a needy human, while still holding himself above nearly everyone he talks to. He's the funniest guy in the movie, and probably smiles the least. I've only seen him in a few things, sadly, but will soon watch more, L Word excluded.
To speak of the look of the film, I was happy to see the director is (read nicely) only a young guy whose background consists of a lot of TV, much on the USA network. It's not bad work, but he has room to grow, and I have no doubt that he will. I speak as someone who can't direct his piss into the toilet consistently, but there are moments with sudden close-ups and pans that look out of place. Maybe a repeat viewing would put them in context. One can get used to Woody Allen-copycat dialogue scenes, so sometimes things move around too much, but thus spoke indie Zarathustra. I'm really just talking mush. The film looks good and realistic. The bags under Kevin Spacey's eyes are lit perfecto. The well-timed editing keeps things moving, and nothing gets melodramatic, which I kept waiting for. There's also a huge one-take shot that walks Patrick through a drug and booze den of sunny depravity, and it's a solid execution in blocking and choreographed madness. Everyone involved deserves a pat on the back.
In comparison to Dr. Henry Carter, this disc is nowhere near as loaded. The presentation and sound are all of befitting quality, and Lionsgate has included most of its releases for the 2009 year as trailers to watch before the movie. The trailer for Shrink, also included, is a pretty good one.
The extras here are stronger than I was expecting. There are about a dozen deleted scenes that were among the best I've seen in years. They are wholly formed scenes cut for time; no extensions of scenes where a character pronounces the word "the" with a hard "e" instead of a soft one. The performances are top notch, and many scenes are amusing, though incidental to the story as a whole. Next, there's a feature plainly called "Interviews with Producer Braxton Pope and Director Jonas Pate." This is also pretty good, especially considering most of it is Braxton Pope, who looks like a tool but isn't, in a single talking-head shot, with a shorter set-up by Pate after. Mostly, the two guys explain the wheels set in motion to get the film made. Between this and the damned amusing commentary track, they convey exactly how difficult it was to get the movie made with as little money as they had. Many, many shots were not permitted, and much of the cast didn't pull in major paydays. The commentary, much recommended, calls out almost every nitpick I had with the movie in my initial review. Of course, I didn't feel the need to change my opinions, but it was both enriching and damning to hear Pate detail the reasons behind his choices.
Shrink is a better movie than I thought I was sitting down to watch. It’s smart, funny, and it silver-lines each dark cloud it presents. It probably won't stick with me for years, but it was nice to have a movie, especially one about psychology, that wasn't pretentious and thin-lipped. If you ever wanted to see Kevin Spacey playing The Dude's distant, depressed cousin, this is probably as close as you'll get.