By Christy Lemire
HOLLYWOOD — Say what you will about some of Kevin Spacey’s more questionable choices over the past decade, movies like “Pay It Forward,” “K-PAX,” “The Life of David Gale” and his labor-of-love Bobby Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea.” When he’s on — when he has strong dialogue to work with and solid actors to play off of — he’s got a presence and a command that are tough to beat.
“Shrink” allows him to show off one of his strongest sides: He’s sharply verbal but darkly funny. He’s also the central figure in an L.A. story that may seem too familiar, one in which the members of a large ensemble, many of whom are involved in the entertainment industry, all end up being cosmically connected.
The coincidences can get more than a bit contrived. And it’s way too obviously ironic that Spacey’s Dr. Henry Carter, a psychiatrist to Hollywood’s elite, is in desperate need of repair himself.
Among Carter’s mixed-up clientele are a veteran starlet struggling to stay relevant (Saffron Burrows, looking striking as always); an A-list actor who’s an alcoholic sex addict (an uncredited Robin Williams, who shares some sparky banter with Spacey), a high-powered agent (Dallas Roberts) whose obsessive-compulsive disorder is matched only by his mean streak; and a wannabe screenwriter (Mark Webber) who’s a longtime family friend.
Into Carter’s appointment book stumbles a precocious but troubled high school student (Keke Palmer), whom he takes on as a pro bono case. Also on the fringes are the agent’s put-upon and extremely pregnant assistant (Pell James); one of the agent’s clients (Jack Huston), an up-and-coming actor with a substance abuse problem; and the blonde (Laura Ramsey) who sleeps with both men in pursuit of fame.
Yes, these all sound like cliched types, because they are. Still, the characters in Thomas Moffett’s script are intriguing enough, and director Jonas Pate gets sufficiently lively work from his eclectic cast, that you end up caring about them anyway. Los Angeles locations, including hiking trails in the Hollywood Hills and the actual Creative Artists Agency building in Century City, help lend an air of authenticity.
Spacey plays their wayward anchor, waking up each morning in a wine-and-pot-induced stupor, self-medicating all day, then going home, passing out and doing it all over again. (When we first see him, he’s recording the book-on-tape version of his best-seller, “Happiness Now,” having showered and shaved beforehand with a joint in his mouth.)
He strikes a believable balance between bemusement at his situation and the troubles of the people around him, as well as genuine and justifiable misery, and his therapy sessions provoke a healthy amount of humor and poignancy.
By the end, Carter may not have found true happiness yet — at least “Shrink” isn’t that painfully obvious — but he’s on his way to achieving some vague sense of peace.
“Shrink,” a Roadside Attractions release, is rated R for drug content throughout and pervasive language including some sexual references. Running time: 104 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.