Published Jul 30, 2009For all intents and purposes, Shrink, yet another in the long line of cynically existential Hollywood critiques, is not a good movie; it's convoluted, awkwardly paced, unoriginal and glib to boot. Nary does a scene pass by without a character staring into space, or a mirror, stating something seemingly profound, or suffering at the hands of another's clichéd neuroses. And while familiarity breeds a certain cinematic discontent, especially given how inherently loathsome self-destructive millionaires are to the common viewer, a sensibility to match heart with angst keeps the film from inciting actual hostility.
Pivoting around the amusing Norman Mailer quote, which suggests that life is not absurd, holding a daunting and insurmountable meaning, the film condenses lives through a crisscrossing narrative involving a pothead psychiatrist to the stars (Kevin Spacey), his wannabe screenwriter relative (Mark Webber) and a despondent teenager (Keke Palmer). All are, or have been, patients of Henry (Spacey), as is a depressive actress (Saffron Burrows) and a conveniently connected, and coked-out (natch), agent (Dallas Roberts).
Each inner-dialogue reflects entropy and the tendency towards personal punishment in a world without meaning. The quest here is that of creation and progress in the midst of seeming chaos, primarily that of human connection, however unlikely.
It works in the sense that the film starts out much like a crisis itself, with disarray, restlessness and a misanthropic disdain for all surroundings, eventually easing into an understanding of what once meant little, with humanity and compassion growing ever so slightly as things progress. The problem is that Shrink does this with the heaviest of hands and mind-numbing conveniences interspersed with public defecation and inappropriate allusions involving the buttering of corn.
From Magnolia to The Player to The Big Picture, we've seen this all before, and with greater deftness of hand. This tale of the sad stoner with a weepy past suffers from Brian de Palma disorder, wherein a successful template is replicated to lesser effect, which leaves us to wonder: "if you have nothing new or interesting to say, why not just stay quiet?" (Maple)