Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Mumford

By Marc Savlov

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999: 

D: Lawrence Kasdan; with Jane Adams, Ted Danson, Hope Davis, Loren Dean, Jason Lee, Mary McDonnell, David Paymer, Alfre Woodard, Pruitt Taylor Vince. (R, 111 min.)

Lawrence Kasdan has always done his best work with large, ensemble comedies, and Mumford is no exception. It's an oddball film, full of eccentric characters and situations that harken back to such earlier group pieces as The Big Chill and Grand Canyon. But Mumford is stranger still, and though it tries like the dickens to exceed your expectations, it nevertheless seems as though its reach is always exceeding its grasp. It never quite gels, and although it's a purely fictional construct (this could never happen in real life, which is where Kasdan sets things, more or less), it seems like a hastily constructed one. Dean (Say Anything, Enemy of the State) plays Doc Mumford, a peaceable, self-effacing psychologist, who has recently arrived in the township oddly bearing his name. One by one, we're introduced to his patients: Sofie Crisp (Davis), a young, lonely woman suffering under the yoke of her tyrannical mother and dealing with a mysterious illness akin to Epstein-Barr syndrome; Althea Brockett (McDonnell), a compulsive catalog shopper compelled to buy two of everything until her home and her family are engulfed in a tsunami of Hammacher-Schlemmer knick-knacks; Skip Skipperton (Lee), the youthful CEO of Panda Modems (the town's chief employer), who is alienated by his own power and merely wants someone to play a leisurely game of catch with him; and Henry Follet (Vince), the town's overweight, balding druggist whose self-esteem is so low that the Forties-era sexual fantasies he entertains contain a strapping mental stand-in for himself. These and others make up Kasdan's cast of characters, and he takes his time in developing them, using Doc Mumford as a means of drawing them out and into the light of reality, such as it is. But there's more here than meets the eye, of course. Mumford may be a town of secrets roiling just beneath the surface, serio-comical though they may be, but it's the Doc who carries the largest mystery of all, one that is soon enough revealed to hyper-naïf Skip. Indeed, Doc Mumford, for a psychologist, has an odd habit of revealing supposedly confidential patient information to anyone who asks. Not a very professional way to conduct oneself, and it soon draws the attention of the town's two other mental health workers, Paymer's Dr. Delbanco and Adams' Dr. Sheeler, who rightfully sense something amiss. Although the Mumford cast is uniformly solid (especially Davis and the cipher-like Dean), it doesn't hold up in the end run, partly because Doc Mumford's core backstory arrives so wildly out of the blue and strikes you as equally improbable, and partly because Kasdan spreads himself a bit thin amongst the nine major characters he's working with. It's not as terrible as, say, 1990's I Love You to Death, but it's also not Kasdan firing on all cylinders.

2 Stars


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