Kevin Spacey, Grieving and Stoned

Main Cast: Kevin Spacey, Keke Palmer, Mark Webber
Also Notable: Robin Williams, Robert Loggia, Gore Vidal
Director: Jonas Pate

Physician heal thyself. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard hundreds of times, yet never is it proven more false than in the indie film Shrink.

Kevin Spacey stars as the shrink in question, Dr. Henry Carter. The good doctor is a psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles, a successful author (of a book about happiness — the irony becomes agonizing as the movie progresses) and the doctor to a number of Hollywood movers and shakers.

He’s also high nearly 100% of the time and falling to pieces, drowning in his own pain and grief. Shrink follows Henry as he self-medicates and ponders the tragedies of his life while attempting to treat a young girl with serious issues of her own that hit far closer to home than any of the issues of the high powered clientele of his usual practice.

Shrink is a portrait of a drowning man. Someone in so much pain that he can barely breathe, let alone help anyone else. He questions his abilities as a doctor, feeling a fraud as he counsels others when he can’t keep his own world from falling apart.

This is a character study with little in the way of forward plot momentum. What there is gets supplied by Keke Palmer as the young girl being treated pro bono for dramatic changes in behavior.

But even her story is really about Henry – as the two share a common pain and through her he is forced to face his own perceived failures. Kevin Spacey is too good in this role. He’s haggard and doesn’t sleep. He smokes pot so he doesn’t have to feel. He looks like hell and lives there, too. We never for a moment question that this is a man in a world of hurt. As we find out more about the source of his pain it becomes even more painful to watch him self-destruct.

Spacey is so good, in fact, that he casts a pall over the entire film. There is little in the way of comic relief to cut the unrelenting sadness of the main character and what there is nearly fails because Spacey is expected to provide it. The words are there, but he is so fully in character that they sound bitter and ugly rather than pithy or witty. He gets in a few good one-liners, as does Palmer, but it isn’t enough. The performance is great, but as a result the movie is too sad even for me – and I revel in depressing indie drama. It isn’t a tearjerker – it’s just a very realistic portrait of a terrible kind of grief.

Shrink isn’t an actively offensive movie. It’s a small film with something to say and it succeeds in helping its audience relate a little to the singular pain suffered by its main characters. Both Spacey and Palmer turn in excellent performances and Jonas Pate directs his formidable talent with assurance.

Shrink is good. But it is so very bleak and sad that I don’t really recommend it for any but Spacey completists or hardcore depression junkies.

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