Psychotherapy & the Lonely Patient
by Samuel M. Natale
(Hardcover from Amazon)
This psychotherapy comedy leaves the impression that someone behind the camera was working out some issues. But the issue that should have received greater attention and effort was in writing the screenplay, casting the movie and directing it.
Equal parts the angst of a loser-nebbish type of guy and a romance he doesn't deserve, can't handle, wasn't ready for and is totally unconvincing in... and the series of therapy sessions that sets the stylistic framework... convincing emotions and sympathy for the central character is hard to find.
After a brief prologue designed to indicate his blank loser qualities, Jake Singer (Chris Eigeman, "Malcolm in the Middle," TV series) starts out secretly trailing a lady and then "running into her" on the streets of Manhattan. Turns out she's his ex-girlfriend whom he allowed to get away and now regrets it. No matter how much he implores about wanting her back, he learns that she, by now, has moved on... to marriage with, of course, someone else.
This is a major theme during his sessions with Dr. Ernesto Morales (Ian Holm), a self described Freudian of the species who engages with his patient in a smirky, aggressive manner than will have laymen and women shaking their heads, recognizing that this aggravating excuse for a shrink is just a variation on the stereotype anyway.
Jake is an English teacher at a high-toned boys school (read "rich kids") and meets Allegra (Famke Janssen), a distraught but beautiful mother of one of the students here. What do you know, though she has a lingering despondency over the recent death of her husband, she becomes attracted to our poor, moping hero, though one is truly challenged to make sense of it. To my eye, if someone as passive and plain looking as Jake would be attracted to him, it's not likely to be a rich, gorgeous, sexy widow. Maybe he looks like someone with whom her kids would feel comfortable.
But there's no misunderstanding here about her intentions. She comes over with two bags full of groceries and, after the foreplay of chopping mushrooms, wisps him away into the bedroom.
Of all the elements that failed to ignite the spark of interest, perhaps the most decisive one is the complete lack of chemistry between these two. Their bed scene may have been shot early in the production because they act like strangers. Purportedly after sex they barely can bring themselves to touch one another. There's something disconnected about this entire scenario.
Jake sort of holds his own against Allegra's elitist mother and his own ailing father but, to make filmmaking matters worse, first time feature director/producer/co-writer Oren Rudavsky, in collaboration with co-writer Daniel Saul Housman, working from a novel by Daniel Menaker, bring Jake's annoying therapist on stage even when he's not there. You've seen the overworn device of giving an image to your thoughts, mostly reserved for the stage and films like "Ghost." Well, no cliche' is too much for this crew. Rudavsky's prior credits are docs specializing in Jewish culture ("A Life Apart: Hasidism in America"). Maybe the behavioral oddities have something to do with rabbinical prohibitions.
Amazingly, Janssen, star that she is ("X-Men"), pulls it off. She's got the chops and the presence to come out all right in any context, including this sophomoric one. Frankly, her appearance here does nothing to shake my adoration. Holm makes the most of a shrink dreamed up by amateur psychologists. But the guy we need to love and respect and give our sympathies to -- the center of the untherapeutic little comedy/drama -- isn't in this movie.
~~ Jules Brenner