Roadside Attractions July 24

Ten years ago, Kevin Spacey was one of the two or three hottest actors in Hollywood, having won two Oscars in a short period of four years, Supporting Oscar for “The Usual Suspects,” in 1995 and Best Actor for “American Beauty,” in 1999.  In recent years, however, he's been rather inactive, serving as the director of U,.K's National Theater, or relegated to second-tier films, both mainstream and indies, such as “Shrink.”

In the disappointing melodrama “Shrink, directed by Jonas Pate, Spacey plays Henry Carter, a seemingly successful but actually depraved Hollywood psychiatrist with an A-list clientele.  It takes one or two looks to realize that Carter himself is not in the best of shapes, physically and mentally; he neglects to shave and he chain-smokes weed as if it was tobacco.  No to mention the fact that he has been asked to take his first pro bono case, a troubled teenager from a neighborhood far away from the glamourous Hollywood hills, where shows like “Entourage” are set. 

As scripted by Thomas Moffett, “Shrink” is meant to be an inside expose of another facet of Hollywood, the one populated by individuals living outside their comfort zone.   Nonetheless,  the tale's central premise that people in position to offer help need help themselves and may be more troubled than their patietns, is so familiar that it has become a cliché.  We have seen it in such high profile movies (and plays) as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” and “Equus,” to mention two popular works.

In quick order, we get to meet his cohort of troubled patients, a once-famous actress (Saffron Burrows), an aging alocholic star (Robin Williams) who's a sex addict, an insecure young writer (Mark Webber), a comically obsessive-compulsive power agent (Dallas Roberts), an Irish movie star (Jack Huston) who overdoses on six illegal drugs simultaneously.

All of the above characters are familiar from other pictures, but unfortunately, the two that are not are underdeveloped: a drug dealer who provides all of the patients (demonstrating a rather contrived case of how disparate individuals are interconnecetd in an impersonal city like L.A.), and a troubled black teenager (Keke Palmer) from the ghetto, forced on the shrink as a pro bono case.

It turns out that some of Carter's habits and excesses (addiction to junk food and drugs) stem from his attempts to deal with the unbearable pain of his wife's suicide.  We know that it's only a matter of time before Carter collapses and we also know that it would be in public, which indeed happens during a talk show, in which he is interviewed by no other than Gore Vidal (you may wonder what was he doing in this picture?)

The movie asks, what happens when the people we count on to hold us together are barely holding it together themselves?  Considering his lifestyle and state of his mind, is Carter ready to handle the troubles of a young person who loves the world of movies, a milieu he has become jaded by.

At its core, “Shrink” wants to say something meaningful about the issues of control and order, our endless need for them and yet our increasing inability to obtain or maintain them.  But watching “Shrink” makes us feel like voyeurs, looking into the lives of people who look great but feel and behave badly. The filmmakers' condescending approach toward the pyschiatrist and his clientele also are meant ot make us feel better about ourselves.

The movie is meant to expose the darker side of the sprawling but mysteriously inetrcconnected city, as is evident by shooting the iconic Hollywood sign from begind.  However, deep down, the film is sentimental with it touchy-feely notes, and pretentions too.

It may be a coincidence that the opening scene, with Spacey's Carter in the shower, recalls his first scene in “American Beauty.” But that's where the resemblance begins and ends.

Finally, it doesn't help that “Shrink” overextends its welcome by at least 20 minutes wit its repetitive sessions.

May I suggest a moratorium on movies about Hollywood as a dream factory defined by illusions and delusions (it's such an easy target for satire), about L.A. as a sprawling milieu in which impersonal lives are interconnected through chance, fate, and accident, and about shrinks that are more troubled than their patients.