Psycho-therapists in films can be very funny, very painful, and yes, painfully funny. Sometimes what we’re given is patently false & artificial, but occasionally we see something with more than a grain of truth.
Hollywood knows psychiatry the way it knows acting: because it’s home turf. The business of the shrink is so similar to the work of the film-maker –separating pretense from sincerity, discovering motivation, seeking truth—that it’s no wonder cinema is so adept at portrayals of counselling.
I saw Hope Springs tonight, a darkly comic film that stars Meryl Streep as Kay, married to Arnold, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Kay is willing to pay for the help of Dr Field, a marriage guru (Steve Carrell), at a week-long treatment at his office in Maine. Even if you never saw this film, it can’t be a surprise that Streep & Jones are wonderful to watch as the troubled couple.
By now the buzzwords of popular psychology and self-awareness have permeated daytime TV. Where would Oprah be without “dysfunction”, without “abuse” and the hundreds of other terms coined to unpack our troubles in front of a live audience? It’s especially close to home for me at this time, having just watched Milton Granger’s Talk Opera, a comically absurd piece that asked us what it would be like to interrogate the troubled lives of a popular opera such as Rigoletto in a primetime talk show.
That’s how commonplace this thinking has become, how banal and how universal.
As I watched Kay & Arnold answer Dr Field’s probing questions, I was thoroughly impressed by the performances, the penetrating writing (by Vanessa Taylor) and direction (David Frankel). We have become a do it yourself culture, everyone with opinions if not outright expertise. Kay begins her voyage of self-discovery in a bookstore, where she finds Dr Field’s book before bringing her husband to Maine for the retreat.
I suppose that’s what my headline is getting at. You can pay thousands of dollars for professional help. Or you can try to find the truth on Pay per view (which in my case cost $5.99).
I am pleased to see Carrell following the path of other comedians before him, undertaking a serious role. Like Tom Hanks & Robin Williams, there’s so much more Carrell can do than play a funny man.
I don’t think i am giving anything away if i say that this material is essentially romantic comedy, whether or not the couple stays together or not. Nobody is shot in this film. There are no car-chases or exploding sky-scrapers. In fact i don’t think we even see a gun the entire time.
And while therapists will probably disagree, i believe we can learn a lot from movies like this one. Save your $4000 and see the film instead.