Spacey's a Pot-Head Again in 'Shrink'

Directed by: Jonas Pate, Runtime: 104 minutes
Grade: B-

Several years after Crash took home top prize at the Oscars, we're still seeing many of the ultra-connected, "it's a small world" storylines coming out of the woodwork -- some of which are more far-fetched and beyond our grasp than others. Shrink, however, isn't just about its web of connected characters; instead, imagine Bob's story of aging hopelessness from Lost in Translation wrapped up in a overbearingly melancholy tone, adding dashes of the drug reliance from Garden State in with the troubled mentorship dynamic of Good Will Hunting. Somewhere in there you'll find this Kevin Spacey-led thoughtful dramedy from director Jonas Pate, a bleeding heart reflection on the death of creativity and virtue in a network of high-profile nutcases. It fares much better than the other Altman-like imitators around these days, offering a dramatically bloated yet tender glance at awakening from a static period in one's life.

When psychiatrist and successful self-help novelist Henry Carter (Spacey) wakes up in the morning, he reaches for a stash of weed and blazes up as soon as possible. Some might see this as simple addiction, but it runs deeper than that when considering the recent death of his wife. He's so distraught that he can't even sleep in their old bed, let alone start a casual relationship with a woman or, forbid, do a coherent job helping his high-profile Hollywood patients at his practice.

He helps a slew of different Hollywood folk, from a hyper-neurotic OCD agent (Dallas Roberts) and a sex-driven older actor (Robin Williams) to a beautiful yet aging starlet (Saffron Burrows) and her narcissistic country-singing husband -- hell, even his godson-in-law and close smoking buddy (Mark Webber), a struggling writer with an eye for the aforementioned agent's assistant, wants in on the therapy. Henry gets a bit of a wake-up call, however, when he's crow-barred into taking a pro-bono evaluative case named Jemma (Keke Palmer), a misguided, movie-loving girl with a similarly dark past to her doctor.

Without Kevin Spacey, it's possible that Shrink could've been nothing but an overwhelming cliché "we're all connected" picture; however, his controlled and gripping performance as Henry is surprisingly vivid, counterbalancing the ham-fisted schmaltziness lingering in the film's motives. The austerity he gives Hank fuels the first half of the film with a brooding intensity, while a credible awakening helps to ease the grievances that we might have with the overbearing effortlessness of the second half's race to help everything come to absolute fruition. It also helps that he and his office serve as a believable cornerstone for the interwoven narrative, stirring up a blend of part realism, part marginal suspended belief in the links between characters that helps engage our emotional investment. It's far more intelligible than the endless network of individuals in Crash, that's for certain.

Shrink's ultimately a heavy comedy that tries to mask itself a bit much as a touching drama, yet it's still affective enough to dig deeper in our emotional space than expected. One of the natural mistakes some might make lies in assuming that it's a sappy Hollywood pity party for their elites, instead of a black comedy with a human heart. It levitates around these high-profile individuals, yet it interacts with them on a normalized plane as they nervously pace about Henry's office. That's what makes each character intriguing and, in controlled doses, an obvious yet subtly sharp reflection on their archetype. Though flickers of Jeremy Piven's agent character in "Entourage" echo in Dallas Roberts' agent and Saffron Burrows' turn as the aging actress is overtly one-dimensional, they're easy to digest due to well-tuned charisma. And, especially in Roberts' case, they're executed potently with a dour satirical tone as the motivation.

Though Shrink's all about Henry's reawakening and the shaping of his clients, the film's beating heart lies in Jemma -- and the commanding performance from Akeelah and the Bee star Keke Palmer. It's a little bit on the obvious side, sure, but her ticket-stub-collecting thirst for being transposed from this life into the silver screen embodies the raw passion at the core of the filmmaking industry, an element of innocence and creativity that gets crippled underneath the upper-echelon pressures mucking up Henry's patients. Something special beats at the center of Shrink because of Jemma, and even if it takes a few stumbles in plot belief to get there, it's still worth grasping at this implausible network of relationships to unearth it from an avalanche of involvedness. Amid a depressive, apathetic state, Henry slowly begins to pull himself from the rubble and crawl towards this epiphany -- and so do we.


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