May 07

“In Treatment” (HBO): Therapy for the Masses

With a new and fourth season of In Treatment coming to HBO Max later this month, starring Uzo Aduba as the therapist, I’m posting today about the first three seasons (2008 to 2010). This series about Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) both providing therapy and receiving it was based on Hagai Levi‘s Israeli series Be’Tipul, which ran two seasons.

As reported by Gaby Wood, The Guardian, Be’Tipul‘s Levi was motivated by a desire to reduce mental health stigma in Israel. Levi felt that whereas in the U.S. “people mention their therapist at the drop of a hat,” not so in Israel. The series went on to become popular among clients, therapists, and many more, including those discovering acceptable therapy depiction for the first time.

In the American-made In Treatment Paul Weston’s therapist is Gina (Dianne Wiest). While Paul is a “boundary-challenged, deeply conflicted, terribly appealing psychotherapist” (Michelle Orange, New York Times), Gina “[cuts] through Weston’s self-absorbed obsessions” (Peabody Awards).

Clinicians and critics had varying but mostly positive opinions about In Treatment‘s portrayal of therapy sessions, viewed in 30-minute segments as opposed to the standard therapy “hour.” Psychologist Ryan Howes, self-confessed lover/hater of the series, listed his pros and cons in a Psychology Today article titled  “In Treatment Ambivalence.”

Excerpts from a sampling of Howes’s cons:

    • …Paul often begins sparring with new patients before they take off their coat…
    • Paul attended a psychoanalytic institute, but his therapeutic approach doesn’t always appear psychodynamic. It’s more like Rogerian reflection and withholding, which results in the frustrated patient demanding advice, followed by Paul’s defensive reaction and howitzer-like interpretation.
    • In each episode you’ll hear several variations of an accusatory: “so you’re telling me…” or “you think I’m saying…” or “what’s that supposed to mean?” followed by an infuriating misinterpretation. Wait a minute, I’ve got an idea: Introducing The In Treatment Drinking Game: take a shot every time someone makes an assumption, questions the validity of therapy and/or storms out of the session early.

A sampling of pros:

    • The writers may not have Ph.D.’s, but they get a lot right about therapy….
    • It reveals the “layers of the onion” in therapy incredibly well. The patients enter therapy with an immediate and obvious complaint. As the weeks unfold, you see how the problem has roots that extend deeper and deeper.
    • I’ve heard unsubstantiated rumors that complaints are made to licensing boards about Paul’s behaviors. If this is true, I love this….

At the start of the second season Jeremy Clyman, Psy.D, wrote in Psychology Today, “At last the field of clinical psychology has a show free of melodrama and full of the detail and depth necessary to realistically represent the therapeutic process. Predictably enough, patients all across the country are discussing the show in therapy and therapists are discussing it with each other.”

Because Be’Tipul only had two seasons, the third In Treatment season was created from scratch. Furthermore, it involved Paul having a different therapist (Amy Ryan). A fitting summary from Nancy Doyle Palmer, HuffPost:

Ryan plays Adele, Paul’s end-of-the week analyst and foil, who at first glance seemed perhaps too young and fresh-faced for the task — but quickly took on him, his patients’ issues of the week and his 30 year plus roster of mommy/mentor/tortured Irish issues. She’s pitch perfect in a completely new way and knows just how to handle him…

While demonstrating the finest qualities of a therapist Monday through Thursday – deeply caring, observant, benevolent and wise – Paul comes to Adele (as he did to Weist’s Gina) often in a rage – harsh, condescending, duplicitous and game-playing – basically giving credence to the fact that doctors are the worst patients ever and shrinks, well…

Oct 11

“Beautiful Boy”: Teen and Family Fight Addiction

To live with addiction — one’s own or a loved one’s — involves living with uncertainty. It also requires enormous suffering. I’m coming to accept these truths after years of fighting them. The surprise is that the more I accept them, the less I suffer. Quote from David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy, Felix van Groeningen‘s new film based on memoirs by both David Sheff and his son Nic about the latter’s drug addiction (Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, 2008, and Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, 2007) stars Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as father and son. Mother and stepmom are played by Amy Ryan and Maura Tierney.

Beautiful Boy‘s Focus

Brian Truitt, USA Today: “…tracks the downward spiral of a teenage boy’s addiction to meth, the vicious cycle of recovery and relapse, yet also the hope and love waiting on the other side.”

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com:

The film moves back and forth between Nic’s past and present, detailing how this relatively average kid felt he needed bigger and better highs to get through the day. The helplessness of addiction is there in Carell’s weary eyes. The actor deftly conveys how parents can’t do much for teenage addicts, and Chalamet completely captures the cycles of self-abuse often contained in young addicts. Nic gets down on himself for using and so uses to feel better and so crashes again and so uses again—and so on and so on. And David goes through all of the possible approaches, trying to help until he realizes perhaps there’s nothing he can do but be there when his son finally climbs out of his personal hell.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

After a while, we realize that Nic is going to show up, looking a little more zoned-out and disheveled than he did before, and that David is going to do all he can to reach out to him, and that it probably won’t work. Then the cycle repeats itself, in slightly more desperate and harried form.

I wish ‘Beautiful Boy,’ for all its honesty and skill, summoned the power to shock us. Yet part of the film’s strategy is to say that no movie can communicate the true inner essence of the drug life, which is what meth feels like in the bloodstream. That’s a sensation we have to imagine, and so Nic’s immersion in drugs isn’t, for the audience, about experiencing a vicarious high, or even gawking at the lows. It’s about watching a young man drift away from the people who love him because his spirit has gone underground.

A concluding critique from Linda Holmes, NPR: “Chalamet’s charismatic, maddening Nic is spectacular, and the film’s stubbornly unresolved view of loving an addict — its perception of the experience as a grueling, endless walk beside someone — is brutal but feels honest.”

Selected Quotes from Beautiful Boy, the Memoir

Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself.

An alcoholic will steal your wallet and lie to you. A drug addict will steal your wallet and then help you look for it.

At my worst, I even resented Nic because an addict, at least when high, has a momentary respite from his suffering. There is no similar relief for parents or children or husbands or wives or others who love them.

Nov 17

“Birdman”: Does He Fly? (Reviews of the Film and a Non-Answer)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, is getting a lot of critical love—for starters, it features several first-rate performances and is stylistically innovative. For me, on the other hand, the latter aspect actually ruled over substance, when I would usually prefer it the other way around.

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times:

Watching Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s multilayered ‘Birdman’ is like unfolding a piece of intricate origami; it keeps opening in unexpected directions. It’s a movie that can be appreciated on many levels simultaneously: as a backstage-at-the-theater comedy; as a literate and literary character study; as a remarkable achievement in cinematography (it’s filmed as to appear to be one unbroken two-hour shot); as a comment on the nature of contemporary entertainment; as a showcase for one of the year’s finest ensemble casts; and as a surreal tale of a man seeking his soul, with a final image so understated yet beautiful you may find yourself sitting still for a minute longer, happily taking it in.

THE PLOT

Tom Long, Detroit News:

So exhilarating it can be exhausting, ‘Birdman’…is a film that challenges, surprises and dazzles while still working at the edges of a frazzled mind.
That mind would belong to Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a movie star who long ago played a superhero character named Birdman to international acclaim before walking away from the franchise. Now he’s written an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story that he’s staging on Broadway, directing himself as the star, trying to reignite his career and validate his work…

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Riggin’s costars in the stage play are Mike (Edward Norton), Lesley (Naomi Watts), and Laura (Andrea Riseborough). Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Ryan also have important roles.

BIRDMAN

Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail:

There’s one more important figure, the title character Birdman, Riggan’s superhero character from decades ago, who lives on as a growling negative voice inside the cracked actor’s head. Nothing’s necessarily entirely literal here, but Birdman is not just the garden variety voice of inner self-loathing…Riggan can move and destroy objects with his mind, rather than just smash them in a bad temper. His madness is distinctly thespian-centric: He believes he can will himself to be someone much greater than he is.

THE TRAILER (With Background Song “Crazy”)

SELECTED REVIEWS

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

‘Birdman’ — full title ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),’ for reasons that become sort of, kind of, all right, not really clear — is a jaw-dropping stylistic wow that spins, pirouettes, turns inside out, and miraculously stays aloft for two hours.
It’s a backstage drama — correction: It’s a backstage middle-aged male freakout comedy-drama and, as such, possibly a guy’s answer to the anxieties of ‘All About Eve.’

Dana Stevens, Slate: “A movie that, while ultimately less satisfying than I hoped, features two breathtaking star turns: one from its lead actor and another from that camera, wielded by the indisputably magical Emmanuel Lubezki.”

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “…(J)ust as the stage belongs to Riggan, ‘Birdman’ belongs to Keaton. It is one of those performances that is so intensely truthful, so eerily in the moment, so effortless in making fantasy reality, and reality fantasy, that it is hard to imagine Keaton will ever be better.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “With grandeur, giddiness and a humanistic nod toward transcendence, “Birdman” vividly evokes a time of equal parts possibility and terrifying uncertainty, and makes a persuasive case that, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the best thing to do is to take flight.”

Tom Long, Detroit News: “Can Riggan really fly? Can any of us? ‘Birdman’ doesn’t offer the answer, but revels in the question. Soar with it.”