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The main character in Shrink uses drugs instead of humor to cope with tragedy, though a little more levity might have saved the film from being such a morose slog. Written and directed by relative unknowns Thomas Moffett and Jonas Pate, respectively, Shrink stars Kevin Spacey as Henry Carter, celebrity psychoanalyst. In a scene practically ripped from American Beauty, the movie opens with Henry slouched in his shower, smoking a joint. The weed ends up being a constant for the rest of the film, with the doctor either smoking or buying, taking breaks only when he’s with a patient or passed out in his gorgeous home.
Henry sleeps everywhere but his bedroom, a place the film suggests he’s avoided since his wife died. In addition to having an A-list clientele—Robin Williams and Saffron Burrows appear as troubled actors, and Dallas Roberts plays an abrasive OCD agent—Henry’s had success writing a book called Happiness Now. As you might have guessed, Henry is unable to take his own advice and feels increasingly unqualified to help others, telling his dealer/default therapist (Jesse Plemons) that “you can’t fix people.” One imagines that the undertaking is especially difficult when the professional is fucked up all the time.
Henry is forced to take on a movie-loving high-school girl, Jemma (Keke Palmer), as a patient and also informally counsels a young family friend, Jeremy (Mark Webber), an aspiring writer. Jemma turns out to have something in common with Henry, which makes him actually care about her case. The anomaly is refreshing within this particular story, even if the let’s-save-each-other angle isn’t exactly an original idea.
Shrink’s cast does a fairly impressive job with the single notes they’re given to play, particularly Roberts’ high-strung germophobe, Palmer’s intensely private student, and even Williams’ alcoholic and sex-addicted actor, tiny though his role is. Spacey’s sleepwalk as Henry is apt for a character who’s perpetually stoned, but it’d be more noteworthy if he hadn’t personified midlife burnout before.
Elsewhere, though, the film feels like little more than a directionless portrait of people struggling to keep going despite their demons. It’s not a terrible movie; nor is it a difficult sit, despite its depressing subjects. But then comes the fatal blow: All of the characters rather unbelievably cross paths in the third act, converging for allegedly serendipitous fresh starts. This plot turn feels like lazy storytelling, both too clean and too cute—and it’d have the pre-redemption Dr. Carter running for his stash.