It’s no secret that the ratio of neurotic, narcissistic people to regular folks is higher in Los Angeles than almost anywhere else on earth. Tune into Entertainment Tonight or Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew if you need proof. In fact, there’s more than enough proof of that city’s deep vein of self-importance all around us on television, in literature and in the movies which makes the mere existence of Shrink, a new film starring Kevin Spacey, all the more baffling.
Spacey plays an LA based shrink to the stars and bestselling author. His practice is thriving, his book is on the best seller charts but his life a mess since the suicide of his wife. He wanders aimlessly through life, self medicating with powerful weed as his scruffy beard grows scruffier and the bags under his eyes look like they could be charged as oversized should he ever decide to fly with Air Canada. He’s at the center of Shrink, the hub of a universe of characters who also includes a litany of Tinsel Town stereotypes like the aggressive agent, a sex addicted, alcoholic older star, an aging actress, drugged out Irish movie star (if I was Colin Farrell I’d be calling my lawyer right about now), a struggling screenwriter and a troubled inner city teen. The story lines mix and mingle, inevitably weaving all the disparate stories into one, frankly, unbelievable conclusion.
Like the recent flop Crossing Over and so many other ambitious films that attempt to unveil the human condition with a multi-character narrative, Shrink has trouble blending the stories into one cohesive whole. The storytelling is choppy and some characters ultimately get the short end of the stick. Robin Williams’s character adds nothing but a bit of star power to this small indie, although in one of the film’s better exchanges Keke Palmer’s character tells him, “You should make better movies.” Amen to that. Eliminating several of the peripheral characters would have streamlined the story and focused the storytelling where it counts, on the Spacey character.
As Henry Carter Spacey revisits the ennui of his breakout role in American Beauty. He anchors the film with a good performance that only occasionally slips into his now regular master thespian moments. When he underplays—as he does in a nicely calibrated scene in which he reads a patient’s mother’s suicide note— he shines, but sometimes the big moments get the best of him.
He’s not helped by a script that seems to try too hard. Like the pace of the film the script is choppy and inconsistent. The film is best when it trusts the actors and allows them to do their work without burdening them with artificial sounding dialogue. The super agent scenes, for example, are overwritten and, by comparison to Entourage’s Ari Gold, feel derivative; ditto Robin William’s scenes, which appear to have been written by a David Mamet wannabe. Couple that with a thoroughly unbelievable and unsatisfactory conclusion that relies on amazing coincidences and you’re left with a film that over reached its grasp.
Over written and occasionally over acted Shrink tries to pack too much into its 110 minute running time.