Shrink (2009)

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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Shrink (2009)

Directed by Jonas Pate
Written By Thomas Moffett, based on a story by Henry Rearden
Starring: Kevin Spacey; Robert Loggia, Pell James, Keke Palmer, Griffin Dunne, Saffron Burrows
MPAA rating: R
Run Time: 110 minutes


With so many films about the gloom and grief Hollywood brings to its worshippers, it’s difficult to come up with an inventive angle. Shrink, however, gives us a different vehicle with which to glimpse the inner lives of a group of Hollywood denizens—through their shared psychiatrist.

Directed by Jonas Pate (The Take, TV’s The Surface) and written by Thomas Moffett, based on a story by Henry Rearden, Shrink is a study of those with outward beauty and confidence and inner turmoil and self-loathing. The Shrink is Dr. Henry Carter (Kevin Spacey), the depressed, burned-out, Hollywood psychiatrist who seeks refuge from the anguish of his wife’s suicide in weed, booze and cigarettes.

And he is the author of a hit self-help book, Happiness Now. Too deeply troubled to pretend otherwise, Henry acknowledges the irony of his book’s slickness and superficiality by tearing it up while on a talk show (hosted by Gore Vidal).

Carter’s patients are on the Hollywood A-List or are A-List wannabes, including a beautiful actress now considered “too old” (Saffron Burrows), an unprincipled, insecure but hopeful young screenwriter (Mark Webber), a comically obsessive-compulsive superagent (Dallas Roberts), and a star who is an alcoholic and sex addict (Robin Williams, uncredited). Despite or because of Henry’s melancholia and aberrant behavior, his wise father (Robert Loggia), also a psychiatrist, asks Henry to take on a pro bono client, Jemma (Keke Palmer). She’s a troubled African-American teenager recovering from a family tragedy. An intelligent girl and an ardent movie lover, Jemma lives in a world that is the antithesis of Hollywood.

Kevin Spacey is exceptional in the role of Henry Carter. Spacey plays him with little self-pity and less affect; Carter is struggling to keep his grief and despair from overwhelming him. Although Shrink’s cast has been referred to as an ensemble cast, it is not. An ensemble cast is one in which the principal performers are assigned roughly equal amounts of importance. In Shrink, Spacey is clearly the star.

Spacey’s career has been on an upward trajectory that hasn’t yet slowed. He gained critical acclaim in the early 1990s, with his first Academy Award for The Usual Suspects (Best Supporting Actor), followed by a Best Actor Academy Award win for American Beauty (1999). His other starring roles in Hollywood include Seven, L.A. Confidential, Pay It Forward, Superman Returns and 21. His film and theater career has earned him Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Golden Globe awards. Since 2003, he has been artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre in London.

Having said that, the performance of the rest of the cast is very skillful. Unfortunately, we don’t get a chance to delve into each character as we should, since the film revolves around the all too fortuitous interrelationships among the characters. And this is where the film lost me. Shrink switches from what might have been an interesting character study to a contrived multi-character small world in which the patients and their doctor help each other to a manufactured ending.
Shrink has fine acting, intriguing characters and moments of humor and pathos, but I left the theater feeling a bit cheated.

Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2009   All Rights Reserved

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