In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb wildlife

Wildlife

One never senses judgment from Dano, Kazan, Gyllenhaal, or Mulligan—they recognize that there’s beauty even in the mistakes we make in life. It’s what makes…

Thumb halloween poster

Halloween

Do you know the biggest sin of the new Halloween? It’s just not scary. And that’s one thing you could never say about the original.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

Beyond Therapy

  |  

Robert Altman's "Beyond Therapy" is killed by terminal whimsy. It's a movie in which every scene must have seemed like a lot of fun at the time, but, when they're edited together, there's no pattern to the movie, nothing to build toward, no reason for us to care. It's all behavior.

One of the problems is Altman's weakness for asides and irrelevancies, for the kind of weird background action that usually works in his movies, but not this time. One of the things movie directors often have to guard against is the extra who wants to be the star, and competes with the foreground action by trying to call attention to his distracting behavior in the back of the shot. "Beyond Therapy" seems to have been directed to give those would-be stars a chance; there's always something going on in the background, and most of the time we're not sure what it is.

Advertisement

The story begins with a blind date between Jeff Goldblum and Julie Hagerty, who have met through the personal ads in New York magazine (the movie was shot in Paris but is set in New York - more whimsy). Both characters can best be described as the last person you would want to meet through a personals ad. Goldblum is arrogant, weird, condescending and bisexual. Hagerty is uptight and insecure - a nervous wreck.

If Altman had left his camera on those two unhappy people as they made each other even more unhappy, something good might have happened. Instead, here and elsewhere in the movie, there are insistent bulletins from elsewhere on the screen, from the hostile waiter, from the weird ladies having lunch upstairs, from the man sitting all by himself near the door - a man who is immaculately dressed but nevertheless looks like a refugee from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Eventually other characters are introduced. We meet two psychiatrists, Tom Conti and Glenda Jackson, who coincidentally work in the same building, where they sometimes meet in an empty office for quick, anonymous sex. We meet Goldblum's roommate, who is understandably upset that he will have to share his lover with a woman. We meet the roommate's mother, who is concerned that her son's boyfriend is cheating on him. And so on.

All of these people seem to be operating on rhythms that the movie doesn't quite have the hang of. It feels like they arrive just after important offscreen developments, or leave on interesting missions, or are saying less than they know. There's a key here somewhere, but we don't know what it is. Maybe the title should be taken literally; everyone in this movie is beyond therapy, including the therapists. Conti believes in sex with patients; Jackson has a strange verbal dysfunction that causes her to say the wrong word at the wrong time.

Altman has used the style of "Beyond Therapy" before, as long ago as "MASH" and notably in "Brewster McCloud," "Nashville" and "A Wedding." He wants to give the impression of a lot of things happening at once, of stories in the background that are as interesting as the main plot. Somehow, this time, he just never pulls it all together; the bits and pieces remain separate, unresolved, not adding up to anything.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix’s Terrifying, Moving The Haunting of Hill House is Essential Viewing

A review of Mike Flanagan's new horror series based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Gets the Deluxe Treatment from Criterion

An epic essay on an epic comedy of the 1960s, now given deluxe treatment on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.

Once Upon a Time in Haddonfield: Revisiting John Carpenter's Halloween

Far Flung Correspondent Seongyong Cho revisits John Carpenter's classic Halloween.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus