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Non-Review Review: Shrink

There’s a good movie to be found somewhere within Shrink. I’m just not sure exactly what it is. Ensemble dramas are a lot tougher to get right than they may initially seem: lining up a variety of interesting plot lines is only half the battle, as the movie has to balance these threads and ensure that all remain intriguing, while none dominate. Shrink doesn’t really do that. Using Kevin Spacey’s “self-medicating” Los Angeles psychologist as a jumping-off point, the film never really finds a compelling hook for us – and the performances aren’t strong enough to get us to invest in the characters colliding and intersecting like balls on a pool table.

Small problems...

Movies about Hollywood have to be smart. Otherwise it just comes across as whiny and self-righteous, the bitter ramblings of people unhappy with the film industry. Movies like The Player are constructed with enough wit and skill that they overcome this hurdle, but it’s too easy to fall into the trap of alienating your audience with what seem like empty observations. Shrink doesn’t do enough to get past this, as we’re introduced to various players in the Hollywood machine faced with the harsh reality of modern movie-making.

The actress is too old; the screenwriter can’t sell his script because it’s a better version of one already in development (because it’s not like Deep Impact and Armageddon had similar subject matter, or Antz and A Bug’s Life); the up-and-coming Irish actor (who is totally and completely not Colin Farrell) wrestles with the fact he makes bad films; and the agent finds himself surrounded by people he doesn’t like. However, the movie can’t convince us to give a damn about any of this – these are all wealthy people who, if they aren’t happy with what they do, have plenty of opportunities to do other things. If these characters hate what they’re doing, there’s no reason to care – especially when it’s an industry that’s not going to change. It’s hard to muster up sympathy for rich people who perpetuate their own problems.

Star vehicle?

As if these elements weren’t cliché enough, we also get an inner-city girl who is referred to the eponymous psychologist because she punched a mirror at school. You can see where this is going, as she connects with her doctor in a way that none of his upper-class patients do, bonding with him and opening up to him. And then some utterly predictable stuff happens, some of which makes most of the cast unlikable, and the other half is just boring, while the movie tries frantically to spin it into “a happy ending” for all involved.

It’s bland and it’s cookie-cutter, and it’s even more infuriating because the movie has a smug and superior attitude towards other standard Hollywood fare, as the Irish actor refuses to make “the asteroid movie” because it’s obviously crap. Maybe he should make the movie about how crap Hollywood is, that is as clichéd and crap as the blockbuster he turned down. It’s legitimate to mock big-budget blockbusters for adhering to an empty formula, but it seems hypocritical when your movie does the exact same thing.

Agent of chance?

It’s a shame, because the movie has a solid enough core. Kevin Spacey, playing the eponymous psychiatrist, is reasonably solid as a man coping with grief through addiction. And the idea of a person unable to cope with reality, using various poorly considered escape mechanisms while having the gaul to tell other people how to live their lives, is an interesting central idea. Unfortunately, the character never really drives the movie. He is established at the beginning of the film, and then he just sort of wanders through it. there’s little real growth or development for him, and the movie labours under the illusion that its showbiz-related characters are far more interesting.

The cast can’t find enough raw material in the script to save the movie. In a very small role as a patient, Robin Williams seems to try at points, but even he seems to be on autopilot for every scene outside his introduction. None of the rest of the cast make a big impression one way or the other.

The Doctor will see you now... but will you see him?

The movie Shrink ends with its writer character vindicated, offering a true “slice of life” for the big screen, with enough energy to convince the jaded professionals wandering through the films that the movie business is worth their time. Unfortunately, I can’t see the writer of the film sharing the same fate.

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