Kevin Spacey, Robin Williams, Saffron Barrows

  2 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

In "Shrink" the doctor is out - and he's usually out cold. "Shrink" is a satiric drama that begs the question, "Where does the psychiatrist to the stars turn to when he realizes his life is more screwed up than his patients?" The answer is he seeks solace in massive doses of mind-massaging marijuana. Attempting - and succeeding in numbing the recent loss of his wife in a car accident, Henry Carter (a spaced out Kevin Spacey) has become prodigious at the art of puffing down, guzzling down, and then falling down.

Henry Carter is a best-selling psychiatrist with an A-list of loonies, including Kate Amberson (a transparent Saffron Barrows), a comely actress saddled with an obnoxious, philandering rocker spouse, and Jack Holden (an uncredited Robin Williams, oozing uneasy sleaze), a barely functioning alcoholic actor past his prime who's clinging to his image as a legendary lothario. Other pitiful personalities in Henry's personal circle of hell waft in and out of his life like the pungent clouds he produces with his spliffs, such as Seamus, a dead set on overdosing actor (Brit bad boy Jack Huston), Henry's well stocked and stoned supplier Jesus (Jesse Plemos, sporting a crew cut and looking all of twelve), and Jeremy, a shy doorman/aspiring writer (wearisome Mark Webber). Seeking to save his sanity and his soul, Henry agrees to counsel Jenna (miscast Keke Palmer), a troubled teen unable to deal with her mother's suicide. Jenna would rather spend her afternoons in the make believe atmosphere of a movie theater than in the harsh reality of high school. Naturally, Henry and Jenna's relationship begins brusquely; he's shocked that such a vibrant, brilliant young girl would withdraw from the world so easily, and she's appalled by his indiscriminant drug abuse. A bond forms between them as they analyze each other's lifestyles:

Jenna: Are you high?
Henry: No, its walrus tusk from Little Antarctica...Strictly medicinal.

Henry gets Jenna to come to grips with her mother's desertion, and their co-dependent relationship forces Henry to admit the truth behind his wife's death -- and to own up to the role he played in her demise.

Jeremy's career is catatonic; he doesn't just have writer's block, he's got writer's wall. His creativity rebounds when he strikes up a relationship with Jenna, whose shaky psyche becomes fodder for his new screen play. Jeremy takes his script to Patrick (Dallas Roberts, as enjoyable as root canal without anesthesia), an obnoxious, obsessive talent agent who refuses to read it on principal alone. In his attempt to get Patrick's attention, Jeremy strikes up a romantic relationship with Daisy (a pell-mell performance by Pell James), Patrick's very pregnant secretary, who champions his work.
I had a real problem with the character of Jeremy. Not only does he take advantage of a naive, vulnerable girl by making her the very public subject of his screenplay, the way Thomas Moffett's script sets up their relationship (she clings protectively to him on the back of his bike - no, not a motorcycle, a bicycle, etc...) makes Jeremy look like a pedophile. Then he romances a pregnant woman. Gross. If he wasn't such a shy, slump-shouldered schlemiel you'd want to hoist his horny head on a pike. A creep in wimp's clothing is still a creep.

Kevin Spacey is an award-winning dramatic actor. Unfortunately he's never made me laugh, and that includes his turn as an overbearing boss in "Swimming With Sharks." Conversely, Robin Williams' dramatic turns have never impressed me. As Jack, he walks through his scenes emitting a much lower energy level than he exhibits in his manic comedy routines. It's embarrassing listening to Williams spout Moffett's rude rote words about sex acts. There's a degree of mealy-mouthed hesitation in Williams' delivery, as if he's forcing himself to read Moffett's mutton-headed dialogue. The fact he's uncredited, despite playing a major role, tells you how much confidence he had in "Shrink's" success. Nice career save, Robin. And if Carter and Jack are supposed to be wealthy players in their respective fields, shouldn't they be able to find some time to shave once in a while? At one point Spacey's three-day growth appears to be joining forces with his chest hair.

White-haired, gruff Robert Loggia, whose taut Siamese Cat features scream "No more Botox!" plays Henry's equally accomplished shrink dad, Robert. (Don't strain yourself coming up with a new name, Moffett). Robert crinkles his eyes like a perplexed Popeye and prattles on as if he was Ahab chasing Moby Dick, offering Henry dead on advice he never heeds. Even dad's intervention only serves to inspire Henry to go out on a bigger bender. (Proving the old adage that sons never listen to their dads.)

Jack Huston plays Seamus, who like Henry spends most of the movie getting high, only he takes self-abuse to a gold card level, polluting his veins with heroin. Huston's "Spinal Tap" sub plot is as inconsequential as his acting. Likewise for Saffron Burrows, Henry's half-realized love interest. Sometimes it's better to leave the love interest angle out, Moffett, if all you can do is have Kate keep bumping into Henry at such ridiculous rates it defies calculation. And every time Dallas Roberts appears as whiny, rude super agent Patrick, you'll wish his mom had named him after a more appropriate locale, such as Athole, Indiana. (Yes, kids, there really is such a place).

Keke Palmer has a future in films, but only if she avoids roles she's not suited for. Despite the nerdy glasses, she never convinced me she was a sensitive intellectual. You can take the street out of the girl, but... Well, you know the rest.   

As the film's tagline says, "In Hollywood even the shrinks are crazy." "Shrink" might have been a better diversion if the psychiatrist didn't need more help than his patients. Carter doesn't care about life, healing his patients or himself, so why should the audience root for his return to sanity? It's more fun watching him spiral toward a meltdown. For example, after a judicious number of joints and copious cocktails, Henry goes on TV and tells the audience not to buy his self-help book:

Henry: It's all bulls**t, then you die.
Interviewer: We knew that going in.

That, kids, is about as funny as "Shrink" gets. Save for a few impaired passages between Henry and Jesus (that's "Jeez-us" not "Hey-suess"), "Shrink" shrivels in the laughs department.
Post Therapy... "Shrink's" Extras

"Shink's" after effects include interviews with producer Braxton Pope, director James Pate and members of the cast, who discuss the film's intended sarcasm. You also get the video for "Here", the focal point of the film's soundtrack, which was penned by Jackson Browne. Jackson Browne? Isn't he too save the whales and granola for a music video? Well, yeah. Browne says of "Here": "It's a song about being in the present, even if you're locked in the past." The studio honchos should have used that for the movie's tag line. Certainly Browne's career is locked in the past. He's experienced a bit of a surge recently as a one man acoustic act, but if you couldn't see him singing, you wouldn't know it was the same dewy-eyed heart throb who penned "Doctor My Eyes," "Rock Me on the Water" and "Somebody's Baby," because Browne's wimpy but smooth singing style is a thing of the past. His voice is much more lived in and his song writing chops are ancient history too.

You may need to seek professional help after seeing this "Shrink." Psychiatrists charge hundreds, even thousands of dollars an hour to have their patients lie on a couch and spew out their insecurities. "Shrink" will make you spew all right, but for all the wrong reasons.


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