Frankly, I roll my eyes every
time another "hyperlink film" is released. The style that
was developed and perfected by Robert Altman was brought to its nadir
with the release of the awful Crash
(2004), winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. Although the hyperlink
originally grew from Altman's journalistic approach and is not without
its place as cinematic storytelling continues to evolve, I was suspicious
that Shrink (2009) was just another Crash rip-off, of
which there have unfortunately been many of late. This, however,
turns out to have been largely unfounded. Directed by Jonas Pate
from a script by Thomas Moffett, Shrink elicits fine performances
and goes beyond cliché and just about enters the airspace of real insight.
Dr. Henry Carter (Kevin Spacey)
is a high-profile psychotherapist and author, specializing in the treatment
of rich and famous clients. Following his wife's suicide, Carter
devolves into a self-medicating lout, favoring marijuana and alcohol,
while he becomes increasingly blasé about his patients and his practice.
His roster of regulars includes a hyper-phobic super-agent (Dallas Roberts),
an alcoholic actor (Robin Williams), and a leading actress and her rock
musician husband (Saffron Burrows and Joel Gretsch). His father
(Robert Loggia), also a therapist, insists that Henry take on a pro-bono
referral, 16-year-old Jemma (Keke Palmer), who is mourning her mother's
suicide. Along with Carter's "godbrother-in-law" Jeremy
(Mark Webber), these characters' conflicts interact to bring about
Carter's acceptance of his lot, and the mutual enlightenment of the
The above is obviously a simplification,
but I don't want the movie to sound overly contrived (a la Crash,
for example). The way these characters cross paths throughout
the film is at least marginally realistic; they don't fall out of
the sky into each other's arms. They are all residents of Los
Angeles, and they are, with the exception of Jemma, all part of a large
set of overlapping social circles. Most importantly, however,
is the sense that these characters are individuals, with divergent experiences
and opinions. They are not types meant to "stand in" for a
race, idea, or class. They are thoughtfully crafted people that
we care about for specific reasons.
Although Shrink was
promoted as a showcase for Spacey, it isn't edited that way.
This gifted but occasionally self-absorbed actor is instead allowed
to haunt some shadowy spaces among the large ensemble cast, exploring
a man who is at first terribly unlikable. But Carter grows on
you as Spacey's skilled portrayal - and Moffett's well-paced script
- opens up new sides to the character, giving him life beyond that
of the grieving sad-sack.
Among the varied cast, Palmer
and Roberts' performances stand out in my mind. Roberts' phobic,
neurotic agent is hilarious and maddening. Palmer exhibits talent
beyond her years, with a controlled, veiled version of the "troubled
teen" type that feels unique and refreshing. Webber's Jeremy
also breaks free of the staleness that seems to encumber most versions
of the "20-something loser;" his wanna-be screenwriter seems like
a cut-out at first, but Jeremy is another example - of which there
are many in Shrink - of an actor taking good writing beyond
expectations and cliché.
Although worthy of praise in
the several respects noted above, Shrink is not without its flaws.
There are some groan-worthy moments of trite dialogue and a few utterly
predictable situations. Robin Williams' character serves no
clear purpose; I almost suspect that it was written expressly for Williams, whose
participation would certainly have helped get the film made. Additionally,
the fast-tracked romantic relationship between Jeremy and the Roberts
character's assistant (Pell James) is pretty unconvincing. In
addition, and perhaps most importantly, the final few scenes feel like
too-brief attempts to tie up all of the narrative threads woven throughout
the film. I often feel that narrative closure is overrated, and
here the filmmakers have paid for that sense of closure with the film's
most contrived moments. Fortunately, they are brief and don't
entirely undo the thoughtful characterizations that have led up to them.
Liongate presents Shrink
in a generally pleasing and tight anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer.
The photography is dark, with the Los Angeles light captured here as
an autumnal hazy golden brown. Although black levels on the transfer
are not as dense as they could be, the muted color palette seems to
be reproduced with fidelity. While the film is presented at 1.78:1,
as the packaging states, the non-anamorphic deleted scenes (see The
Extras below) appear in a widescreen aspect ratio. I was unable
to verify how Shrink was projected in theaters, and am therefore
not sure which was the director's intended aspect ratio.
Dolby Digital mixes are provided
in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. As a dialogue-driven film, surrounds
are limited, but the occasional ambient effect makes for a nice touch.
I feel that the music, which includes performances by Jackson Browne,
is a bit antiseptic and is at times overly emphasized on the soundtrack.
It's a minor complaint in context, but every time the music level
rose in the mix, I found myself mildly irritated.
The limited but decent extras
begin with a full-length audio commentary
with director Jonas Pate and producer Braxton Pope, which is a genial
if not essential affair. Additional interviews with Pate
and Pope (22:20) are next, which are a bit redundant but nevertheless
interesting. Deleted scenes (7:16) include an appearance
by Griffin Dunne as Carter's editor, and, as noted above, reveal that
the film was originally shot in widescreen. Finally, a music
video for the song "Here" by Jackson Brown, and the theatrical
trailer wrap things up.
A good screenplay and a talented
ensemble cast take Shrink beyond the level of other recent examples
of hyperlink movies. Although it has its faults, Shrink
is suffused with a sense of unpredictability that is one of cinema's
most valuable commodities. Recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.