Feb 28

“Albert Nobbs” Raises Intersting Issues About Gender and Class

As the film Albert Nobbs only played in my area for about a minute before breezing merrily along, I haven’t yet had the chance to see it. So, for now, I’ll have to settle for reading about it. And for the trailer, of course:

Albert Nobbs has received two significant Women Film Critics Circle Awards. One is for the film itself, “for best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity.” Its material comes from a 1982 theatrical adaptation of a novella (1918) by George Moore, an Irish writer.

The other award is for the film’s main star, Glenn Close, who had also been involved in the play, and who fought long and hard to bring this story to the screen. She won “Courage in Acting,” which is for “taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen.”

In scanning the reviews, it sure wasn’t hard to find puns of a certain ilk. Keep in mind that we know early on that both Albert Nobbs and newfound friend Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) are women pretending to be men in order to have work and income. Peter Debruge, Variety:

Too bad the film is such a drag.

This frequent play on words speaks to both the women-wearing-men’s-clothing aspect and the idea that many viewers find the film to be slow and boring. Could that be due, at least in part, to what’s involved in having to characterize the effects of such lifelong repression? David Edelstein, New York Magazine, about Close’s Albert:

She’s the personification of fear—the fear of being seen through, seen for what she is.

Another frequent theme of Albert Nobbs: that the movie is ultimately unsatisfying in its answers—or lack thereof—to the big questions it raises. As stated by one blogger:

Albert Nobbs raises so many thought-provoking questions. Why is the male gender the more “desirable” gender in society? What does it say about a society where half its population has a mere two options for their lives? How can women take charge of their own lives amidst confining gender norms? And therein lies my problem with the film. It provides no conclusions, the answers remain elusive…

And, similarly, Claudia Puig, USA Today:

Though this period drama is meant to be thought-provoking and prompt intriguing queries about gender, it leaves too many questions unanswered.

And, Dana Stevens, Slate:

Albert Nobbs is the portrait of a person with an inner life so inaccessible that even he or she no longer knows what’s going on in there…

the rare double drag king bill you could plausibly take your grandmother to. It’s genteel, well-crafted, mostly sexless and frequently dull—a movie that, like its title character, never quite dares to let itself discover what it really wants to be.

Well. I’m still hoping, despite its flaws, that I’ll actually get to see it in the theater someday. I’m also hoping that, when I do, I’ll be able to echo the concluding views of the same female blog writer already excerpted above:

The tragic story of Albert Nobbs lingered in my memory long after I left the theatre. Its exploration of female friendship, lesbian love, class and poverty, gender roles and a woman’s self-discovery, truly make it a rare gem.

Feb 27

“Our Time Is Up”: The Long and Short Of It in Live Short Action Film

Speaking of the Academy Awards (and I’m guessing many of you were at some point recently?), a nominee for Live Short Action Film in 2006 was called Our Time Is Up, which I would sum up as being about—you guessed it—minding therapy.

Writer-director Rob Pearlstein depicts psychologist Dr. Stern (Kevin Pollak) as an ineffectual shrink who lacks, for whatever reasons, an essential oomph behind his work—is it boredom? depression?

At any rate, he basically just goes through the motions; despite this, at least some of his clients seem to continue seeing him despite their lack of progress and his unhelpful stock responses to their problems. Let’s just say that something then happens that leads to a drastic change in his therapeutic approach. If you want to know more (as in spoilers), keep reading after the video.

Although the video below indicates a length of almost 15 minutes, the movie itself sans credits actually runs less than 12.

An argument for using a therapeutic style somewhere between these two approaches right from the get-go?

The Spoiler Intro to Our Time Is Up per The Short Films Blog:

Dr. Stern is an extremely organized and uptight psychiatrist who does his job every day with less than a smile on his face. His patients include a womanizer who can’t form a connection with women, an anorexic,  a man who is in denial about his attraction towards men, a woman who is obsessed with cleanliness, a man who can’t help but touch a woman’s ass, a man who is deathly afraid of turtles, a man who is abused by his girlfriend and a man who is afraid of the dark. Dr. Stern doesn’t do much of anything for these patients, that is, until he gets a call from his own doctor with pretty horrible news… he has only six weeks to live. Upon retrieving this information, Dr. Stern begins to care less about being professional and more about living his life. Along with this new appreciation for life, Dr. Stern also starts to actually give his patients advice. As brutally honest as he is in his delivery, Dr. Stern truly makes a remarkable difference in each of his patients’ lives.

Feb 24

“Return”: A Female National Guard Reservist Back from War

The new film Return is about a woman, a National Guard reservist, who’s served in an overseas war. Further description from upi.com: “Kelli (Linda Cardellini) comes back to her husband (Michael Shannon) and two daughters, her friends and an old job. While repressing her war memories and denying that she’s been traumatized, she cannot get back into the swing of things with her marriage, putting her kids to bed, grocery shopping and the ordinary happenings of civilian life.”

It’s not that Kelli was in the trenches or shooting at people or whatever it is that combat soldiers do these days. Mostly she worked with supplies. But she did experience war.

Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice/LA Weekly: “The avoidance of stereotypes, beginning with the unusual female perspective, keeps ‘Return’ away from the most tired sort of PTSD histrionics… .”

And, it’s surely a big benefit to this female-centric indie that the writer-director, Liza Johnson, is also a woman. Right, Rex Reed? Wrong. “A bargain-budget bore,” he calls it. And later adds:

…And what, many ask, are responsible wives and mothers doing deserting their families and throwing their lives in harm’s way to begin with? Debating that touchy subject is a double-edged sword that isn’t about to be resolved in a movie as slow and one-dimensional as Return.

How often does anyone ask the same thing about “responsible husbands and fathers” who go off to war?

Maybe finding a critic who also happens to be a woman would help. How about female critic Dana Stevens, Slate:

Unlike the male soldiers in recent returning-veteran movies (Toby Maguire in Brothers, Ryan Philippe in Stop-Loss), Kelli rarely if ever freaks out on an operatic, mayhem-inducing scale. Her screw-ups are more incremental: She quits her job at a factory in a moment of boredom and frustration (‘this is bullshit!’), or forgets which is her day to pick up her daughter after school. But Johnson is ruthless at showing how those small mistakes can quickly reduce an ordered life to chaos. Driving alone one night after drinking at a friend’s house, Kelli gets a DUI and a must attend a state-mandated AA meeting (where her protests that alcohol ranks low on her list of problems ring true)…

…Johnson’s film remains quiet and precise in its portrait of a woman struggling to keep it together and almost, almost managing…Kelli is no noble martyred war hero but a troubled woman who can be self-pitying, ungrateful, and infuriatingly passive. But even when we don’t like Kelli, we can’t help loving her.

Thank you, Dana—something about your review makes me think you’re more in sync with this particular subject matter.

And what, you may ask, about Kelli’s husband? It turns out that he was able to avail himself not only of a spousal support group while she was away but also an extramarital affair—one that’s not ending just because Kelli’s come home.

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “You admire these characters for their considerable resilience while understanding that even the best-intentioned people can break under the stress.”

Cue the Return trailer:

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: “Johnson’s feel for the rhythms of reconnection are steady, and she and her fine actors make ‘Return’ one of only a handful of films to honestly address what to many is heartbreaking reality.”

Feb 23

Bad Therapy Boundaries and Beyond On TV and Film

Looks as though How I Met Your Mother has finally found a way to get rid of Kevin, he of bad therapy boundaries, he who never should have been dating his former client Robin.

Let me make this brief: Before knowing that she can never have kids, Kevin proposes. Robin discloses. He again proposes. She accepts. She discloses she doesn’t want kids either. He’s unfazed. She insists he really thinks this through. He un-proposes. Done.

So, this has gone the way of all of those inappropriate shrink/client relationships we’ve seen on TV or in movies that eventually crumble because in the end the client realizes he or she’s been exploited or because of other negative effects on the client’s well-being or…

Whoa. Wait a minute. Wait a darn minute. That actually never happened on HIMYM, and…well, has it ever happened anywhere on TV? In the movies?

Back around 1993, a study of regarding therapy boundaries in U.S. movies showed that there were 22 that featured female therapists having sexual relationships with male clients; eight had male therapists getting involved with female clients. (In real life, by the way, more male therapists take advantage of female clients than the other way around.)

The psychiatrist behind this film research, Glen O. Gabbard, states: “Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the movie The Silence of the Lambs was probably more ethical than most screen psychiatrists–he only ate his patients.” (For more info, see the second edition—1999— of Gabbard’s book Psychiatry and the Cinema, cowritten with his brother Krin, a literature professor.)

As stated by Dr. Ofer Zur, Ph.D., author of Boundaries in Psychotherapy: Ethical and Clinical Explorations (2007) on his website:

Sexual relationships between therapists and current or recently terminated clients are always unethical and often illegal.

Whereas in real life, most clients who’ve become lovers of their therapists are significantly harmed emotionally, most of the celluloid clients and shrinks seem to suffer no such thing. Many of these films, in fact, have even been billed as exciting “romances” by their producers. And, Zur adds:

What is interesting about some of these movies is that they depict the sexual relationships as effective in promoting health and healing.

Fortunately, more and more of the public is aware that it’s wrong for therapists to develop romantic or sexual relationships with clients and/or clients’ family members. One way that I see this every day, in fact, is in the disproportionately large number of hits to this blog by people searching for info about whether or not the therapist in the movie 50/50 and Kevin on HIMYM have been unethical. It’s as though these searchers already know the answer but need some validation.

I don’t remember if the following scene from The First Wives Club (1996) happens before or after Annie (Diane Keaton) finds out that her therapist (Marcia Gay Harden) has become involved with her husband—probably before—but, in either case, it may serve as some small comfort to those who’ve felt betrayed by their shrinks:

Feb 22

“Beyond Therapy” and “Psycho Therapy”: Two Relevant Plays

Whereas Christopher Durang‘s 1980’s “Beyond Therapy” still wows audiences wherever it’s staged, the new off-Broadway play “Psycho Therapy,” starring Jan Leslie Harding as therapist Nancy, has opened to some pretty unfavorable reviews.

David ShewardBackstage: “If you want an empty-headed sitcom, stay at home and watch TV or better yet download a 30-second clip of one from YouTube. Either option will give you more substance and laughs than you’ll receive after forking over the money for a ticket and sitting through the 90 minutes of misery at the Cherry Lane Theatre that is ‘Psycho Therapy.'”

Joseph CervelliNorthjersey.com: “Harding overdoes the craziness of the therapist…(t)he show is like a boat without a rudder. It feels like the actors are simply left to their own devices, which includes speaking in loud, annoying voices and slamming doors in Feydeau farce fashion.”

Daniel M. GoldNew York Times, does note, though, that although therapist Nancy gives us excess “psychobabbling,” there are some important truths here and there. He cites an example of feedback she gives her client: “When Lily claims to have had many successful relationships, Nancy reminds her that ‘a successful relationship is one that continues.'”

Well, chances are you won’t get to see it anyway—the website indicates a closing date of Feb. 25th.

Beyond Therapy” also started off-Broadway (1981), but made the move to Broadway the following year. Reviews were stellar, calling it “one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in years” (Rex Reed, New York Daily News), “zany in a particularly intelligent way” (Dan Sullivan, LA Times), and “the best therapy of all: guaranteed laughter…two hours of hilarious surprises” (Gerald Clarke, Time).

Since then, “Beyond Therapy” has continued to be produced regularly by all different kinds of theater companies and in various locations. I saw it performed a long time ago at Trinity Rep in Rhode Island, in fact, and remember it as the funniest play I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, its 1986 movie adaptation was a big flop. (See IMDB’s Beyond Therapy.)

In the movie as well as the play, a couple of unhappy people in Manhattan, Prudence and Bruce, are each seeking romance. They’re also each in therapy with different shrinks—in the movie, played by Tom Conti and Glenda Jackson.

And the shrinks are probably more “beyond therapy” than anyone else.

Vincent Canby, The New York Times, on the movie version: “Mr. Durang is not nice about analysts. Miss Jackson has enormous enthusiasm for her work, though she’s inclined to say ‘porpoise’ when she means ‘patient’ and ‘dirigible’ when she means ‘secretary.’ The analyst played by Mr. Conti is a lecher who spends part of each 50-minute hour making fun of Prudence, the other part trying to persuade her to go to bed with him.”

Unlike many other movies, TV shows, and plays that deal with therapy, however, at least in this case the client knows her male therapist is behaving unethically. And, in the scheme of things, that counts for a lot.