Beyond Therapy

Beyond TherapySynopsis: Neurotic New Yorker Bruce (Jeff Goldblum) is a manic bisexual who enjoys a good cry. Equally insecure Prudence (Julie Hagerty of Airplane!) is the uptight writer he meets through the personal ads. Bob Christopher (Christopher Guest of Igby Goes Down, A Mighty Wind) is Bruce’s roommate and former lover who is insanely jealous of Prudence. Prudence is also sleeping with her lecherous therapist Stuart (Tom Conti of Reuben, Reuben) , while Bruce’s therapist Charlotte (Oscar-winner Glenda Jackson of A Touch of Class and Women in Love) may be crazier than any of her patients. Add an extremely overprotective mother and a very odd French restaurant, and you have a one-of-a-kind comedy about life, love and the happy endings that lay Beyond Therapy

Genevieve Page (Belle De Jour) co-stars in this dysfunctional romantic comedy directed by seven-time Oscar-nominee Robert Altman (Short Cuts, Nashville) and co-written by Christopher Durang (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You~~) based on his smash Broadway play.

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Beyond Therapy 6.0

eyelights: the intriguing cast.
eyesores: the erratic behaviour of the characters.

Robert Altman was a very hit-or-miss filmmaker. For every ‘M*A*S*H’ and ‘Short Cuts’, there’s a ‘Quintet’ or ‘Popeye’. But I like his style and I love seeing his films, stumbling upon the great ones – which are usual filled with thoroughly enjoyable dialogues, and delightfully diverse casts.

‘Beyond Therapy’ falls in the lower half of the pile; it’s got interesting moments, but it’s not great. In fact, it’s so strange and uneven that, the first time I sat down to watch it, my partner was in such agony that we stopped it short. Very short. I had to start over by my lonesome later.

I’m not really sure what Altman was trying to do with this one, but it feels like a failed Woody Allen-esque picture. It has a handful of neurotic characters mixing and matching, talking about relationships and visiting their respective therapists for help with their emotional problems.

It’s meant to be a comedy, but the humour was often either too offbeat or outrageous to elicit chuckles. Sometimes the characters would say things that were so offensive and/or out of place that it was impossible to not react negatively – for instance when Jeff Goldblum comments on Julie Hagerty’s breasts.

A part of me wondered if it was improvised, ramshackle as it felt. And yet, it was based on a play by Christopher Durang. Although they share writing credits, apparently Altman rewrote much of the play and Durang was very unhappy with the end result. Was the end result Altman’s fault? Or the cast’s? Or both?

In his version of the story, Bruce (Goldblum) and Prudence (Hagerty) meet in a French café for the first time, having found each other through the classified ads. Both are seeing therapists, as is Bruce’s lover, Bob. Prudence is seeing a therapist who is enamoured with her, while Bruce’s eccentric therapist tries to match up her son with Bob. Throw Bob’s mom into the mix and you’ve got a farce waiting to be unleashed.

Except that it never really takes off.

The characters are just too over-the-top and/or erratic to be believable: Bruce pretends to cry for reasons unknown, and sucks Prudence’s toes, Bob wanders around with a starter pistol that shoots unlimited blanks, the therapists have quick anonymous sex together during their sessions, the therapists have unusual and rather unprofessional relationships with their patients, and so forth.

The cast, while intriguing, doesn’t fare well. Neither Goldblum or Hagerty truly deliver with conviction. While it’s supposed to be a comedy, and this often suggest liberties in the way that human behaviour is portrayed, I didn’t find their touches amusing – only odd and awkward. The only person who came out of this unscathed, really, was Christopher Guest, as Goldblum’s lover; he played it straight (ahem… in  a manner of speaking).

If the film has anything to offer, it’s in its message, which is pervasively of the “live and let live” variety; it suggests that the way people live doesn’t matter so long as it doesn’t directly affect others – something which is right up my alley. For an ’80s film, it was also rather progressive in its views about homosexuality and bisexuality, playing this out as just different flavours at the ice cream counter of life.

And although Bob has a minor flamboyance that some may feel borders on stereotype, I thought that he was presented with enough dignity and seriousness that he came off as probably the most respectable of the lot. Come to think of it, the only other gay male is also played in a dignified way – it’s the bisexual and heterosexuals who are the crazy, cooky ones, the ones who are “queer”.

In the end, though, despite this nice touch, ‘Beyond Therapy’ was too confused and confusing to be entirely entertaining; it could even prove frustrating at times. While I won’t see it again anytime soon, I would love to read or go see the original play to find out if it’s any better – because, at its core, there is potential here. Frankly, all it needs is a more polished script and more stable performances.

All in all, after a false start, I’m glad that I got beyond ‘Beyond Therapy’. Even if the film is a tosser, it turns out that I may have discovered a playwright worth knowing. The library will be getting request from me very shortly. Stay tuned for a report on the play.

Date of viewing: May 2, 2013

One response to “Beyond Therapy

  1. Pingback: Beyond Therapy | thecriticaleye·

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