See This Movie: Shrink

Posted by Miserable Retail Slave on April 28, 2011 at 7:00 PM
by Paulie Walnuts

“See This Movie” is Paulie Walnuts’ attempt to draw attention to otherwise lesser-known films that are worth the time of day. It is also an attempt to shine positive light on some well-known films that have poor reputations, or are generally regarded as busts. So jump on board, see the films, leave a comment or two, and let us know if you agree or disagree with Walnuts’ assessments.

“Shrink” – starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Williams, Mark Webber, and Keke Palmer

“So…I’m gonna go out to my car,” Dr. Henry Carter (Kevin Spacey) says. “I’m gonna take a big hit from a self-medicating joint, and then I’m going to Kentucky Fried Chicken because it’s finger-fuckin’-lickin’-good.”

“Shrink” at first appears to be a film about a Hollywood psychiatrist who has answers for everything and everyone except himself. On the surface, it’s probably exactly what viewers would expect. Typically, writers dabble too often in – and rely too heavily upon – the use of irony. The basis of the film is exactly that – an ironic look at a psychiatrist who simply cannot overcome his own demons.

As the movie begins, we’re confronted with a very sluggish looking Dr. Carter smoking marijuana. It is clear early on that something is wrong, but that we will have to watch in order to learn what it is that has Henry in such a state.

Next we’re afforded a look at Henry in a professional atmosphere as he tends to one of his patients, a well-known actor named Jack Holden (Robin Williams). Henry’s intelligence is put on display here, and is a stark contrast to the wasted, lethargic character we’re at first presented with. This extreme change in the nature of the character is ironic, as well, while also serving as a fantastic character development tool. We can now assume, just a few minutes in, the complexity of Henry’s character and, judging by the content of his discussion with Jack, we can also assume that whatever is haunting Henry is of a more profound nature.

Henry tries adamantly to convince Jack that he’s an alcoholic, but Jack insists, “I’m a functioning alcoholic,” and seems more worried that he’s a sex addict. He asks Henry’s permission to cheat on his wife, which of course the shocked psychiatrist cannot grant. It is only later in the film, when some old friends and family attempt an intervention – and Henry spouts off the quote I began this article with – that we realize how important this scene is as the source of his issues is finally revealed. The irony here is that Henry, like Jack, cannot admit his problem.

As the film progresses, however, it becomes subtly apparent that the theme is changing. The movie makes a sudden perspective change that is both off-kilter and interesting. We’re suddenly presented with a plot about a group of characters, including, along with Henry and Jack, a struggling writer named Jeremy (Mark Webber) and a troubled high school student named Jemma (Keke Palmer).

Jeremy is young and confident, yet humbled by bouts of self-doubt brought on by his lack of success. He is also Henry’s godbrother and, in a way, plays the part of psychiatrist as the two smoke marijuana together into the late hours. Henry, against his better judgment, reveals too much information about his patients. Jeremy, inspired by Henry’s stories, begins to write a movie script. The irony here is that Jeremy, a fiction writer, relies upon true stories to concoct a worthwhile script.

Jemma is a teenage African-American who is struggling in school. The most striking thing about her, aside from her quiet yet mysterious nature, is how utterly alone she is. There seems to be no parental figure in her life and, like Henry, her issues are left a mystery. She spends much of her free time watching movies and saves all of her ticket stubs. The educated critic will see parallels here between the young female and the older man. Presumably, then, the same problem haunts each of them, and this observation is later proven true during the climax of the story. Once again, irony looms large.

Henry’s father suggests Jemma as a new patient – as part of his intervention – because he knows what she shares with his son. Henry eventually reveals the nature of his new patient to Jeremy, so Jeremy secretly befriends her. He uses her as the key “ingredient” in his script, and presents the finished work to an agency. When word gets out, Henry is livid, as is Jemma, leading to an intense confrontation and, eventually, a satisfying resolution.
“Shrink,” as a title, becomes more fitting upon viewing this film. It has numerous symbolic meanings that fit each main character. The movie relies heavily upon the use of irony in its character and plot development, but it actually suits it well. I was worried at first that the film would fall into cliché themes, but it does a fantastic job of balancing clichés with new and interesting ideas. The irony is not overused because it is used in ways the viewer doesn’t expect.

This movie eventually becomes an interesting work of metafiction, moving away from an individual character and into the most fascinating and realistic aspects of a group of characters. This film inspires self-reflection as each of its characters’ highlighted characteristics are relatable.

My rating: 3.75 stars. An excellent movie, especially for viewers interested in character-driven works of fiction.

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