Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Psych-Out

By Heather Iger

OCTOBER 4, 1999:  Sometimes life's little enjoyments are rather embarrassing. Whether it be the guilty pleasure we experience when we crank up the Bee Gees when no one's around, reading an Anne Rice novel, or watching Springfield on the tube, we all have that secret vice, our love of the mindless and cheesy. Acclaimed writer, director, producer and hack Lawrence Kasdan has a gift for providing us with those blushingly lovable gems that turn off our brains and tune up our Prozac smiles. Kasdan's newest contribution, Mumford, is just that kind of delight.

Mumford is the story of Dr. Mumford, a charming psychologist (played by boy beauty Loren Dean of Say Anything fame) living in a small town, curiously named Mumford as well. The doctor is uncannily popular among his patients and townspeople. Even the neighbor's dog jumps over the fence to greet him. Mumford owes his freakish popularity in part to his fairly unorthodox method of therapy. He stops patients in mid-sentence, halfway through their session and asks them to leave if their diatribes are displeasing to him. He gives house calls, takes them on paper routes and goes hiking with them. He also has little regard for the field's code of ethics, disclosing his patients' problems and secrets at the drop of the hat.

His patients' dilemmas are amusing and innocuous enough. They run the gamut of common day disorders: an obsessive-compulsive, an anorexic, a narcissist, a sexual fetishist and a patient with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Voyeurism is fun, and the grainy anecdotal film segments in which patients divulge their fantasies are well articulated. But it is Dr. Mumford himself who is truly in need of help, living a secret life and fearful of discovery.

In Mumford, Kasdan takes a pretty harsh dig at the psychological rehabilitation industry. Mumford has no qualifications, but is more effective than the other shrinks. That does not bode to well for classical psychological training. The story also treats mental illnesses pretty lightly. None of Mumford's patients appear to be harmfully ill. All of their problems seem to stem from of a basic feeling of loneliness and alienation with a superficially toxic family member thrown in here and there for good measure. Even the symptoms of diseases of an organic and physical nature are healed with a little bit of listening and attention. In the end, everyone is cured with the prospect of a good, old-fashioned "shtupping."

Now, some may feel that shrinks are modern-day witch doctors shoving some malarkey about personal growth and healthy behaviors down our throats, stigmatizing us with their labels and rhetoric. But most of us would acknowledge that there are those of us for whom mental health is not just a matter of will or the need for a little attention, but rather a matter of serious emotional trauma or default wiring and bad chemistry. And marginally dysfunctional communities are comical when you live in Beverly Hills or Sonoma County, but these representations seem a bit fanciful compared to the Twin Peaks where many of us really come from. Therefore, a lot of people might find this film to be rather offensive, particularly practitioners within this field and their clients.

This is not unfamiliar territory for Lawrence Kasdan. He has been pumping out quirky psychological melodramas since The Big Chill in 1981. Time and again, whether it be The Accidental Tourist or Grand Canyon, he delves into the personal psychology of his characters; but none of them are any deeper than their need for love and basic human acceptance. This film is probably one of his most light-hearted attempts at reiterating this formula and is probably more palatable as a result.

There are no great revelations to be found here. But a light, humorous narrative keeps the film flowing smoothly, and questions of profundity or plausibility are kept safely at bay. Take a date and remember -- love conquers all. And if doesn't, I've got a number for a really great therapist you can call.


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