Sep 19

“This Is Where I Leave You”: Therapists Won’t Like This

Welcome Home. Get uncomfortable. Tagline for This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You is the type of star-studded dysfunctional-family dramedy you might get kinda excited about after seeing the previews:

But then you find the disappointing reviews. Many say it’s a predictable and not-funny-enough, not good-enough script—adapted, incidentally, by Jonathan Tropper himself, the author of the 2009 best-selling novel.

Cynthia Fuchs, Pop Matters, sums it all up: “Girls want babies, boys want reassurance, girls nurture, boys need to wander. Dad is dead. Long live formula.”

Despite this, you dig even deeper into what the critics are saying. Alas, you find out that not one, but two, therapists are (once again) depicted badly.

More About the Plot and Characters

Jane Fonda plays the dysfunctional family‘s psychiatrist/author Hillary who believes, “Secrets are a cancer to a family.”

Per Witney Seibold, The Wrap: “This dramedy…offers family angst lite, with marital infidelity served up as the most grievous sin committed by any of the characters in it: Jason Bateman‘s recently divorced sad sack; Tina Fey’s fussy, unhappily married sister; Jane Fonda’s mouthy mom; and Adam Driver’s irresponsible lout, to name but a few.”

Having now seen this myself (despite the reviews), I can add that viewers know Hillary’s adult kids aren’t happy with their mom’s oversharing. Less is specifically said about Driver’s character Phillip’s new relationship with his therapist, though, in large part because so little has ever been expected of him and his choices.

To be clearer, this situation (if occurring in real life) is much more about the choice made by the ex-therapist he’s dating, who breezily explains she terminated the clinical relationship when they knew they had a more personal interest in each other. More ethical choices could involve discussion(s) of how to move forward via processing this clinically and/or terminating the clinical relationship and thus the relationship, period, and referring him elsewhere.

Chris Nashawaty, ew.comconcludes the following about the various characters’ representations: “The movie is so festooned with clichés it proves that Tolstoy was dead wrong when he wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This clan is just like the one in August: Osage County (or Home For the Holidays or The Family Stone), only with more eye-rolling one-liners about Jane Fonda’s cantaloupe-sized breast implants. It’s a misfire that’s especially confounding considering that you couldn’t ask for a more promising cast of brother-and-sister bickerers.”

Additional Reviews

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “You laugh in spite of yourself in This Is Where I Leave You, a potty-mouthed comedy with enough exasperation, aggravations, long-standing grievances and get-me-outta-here moments of family stress to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had to endure large clan gatherings that might have lasted a bit too long.”

Scott Foundas, Variety: “Sitting shiva makes the heart grow fonder (and the libido rage and the repressed grievances runneth over) in ‘This Is Where I Leave You,’ a sprawling ensemble dramedy that starts out like a full-tilt sit-com and gradually migrates to a place of genuine feeling.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The actors all seem lost and jittery. The direction seems phoned in while waiting in line at some suburban ATM machine. If you crave freshness, originality or quality, cherish the decision to pass up This Is Where I Leave You and be content with the knowledge that you didn’t miss a thing.”

Jul 11

“Boyhood” Film Follows 12 Real Years

Boyhood follows the development of a young man within his family and environment over the course of 12 real years, a unique way to film a non-documentary. To pull this off, in fact, director Richard Linklater took quite the gamble that all his actors would remain available over this period.

The boy in question is Mason (Ellar Coltrane). His parents are played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. In addition, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei makes her acting debut playing Mason’s sister Samantha.

Although the film clocks in at 164 minutes, the critics don’t seem to mind—they’ve actually been heaping high praise.

THE PLOT

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “…Boyhood is an epic about the ordinary: growing up, the banality of family life, and forging an identity. Everything here has been seen in movies and on television countless times before — marital spats, a divorced dad trying to connect with kids he sporadically sees, teenagers acting out, parents having to let go — but perhaps never has the long arc of the journey from childhood to college been portrayed as cohesively and convincingly as Richard Linklater has done in a film that can be plain on a moment-to-moment basis but is something quite special in its entirety.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Everything and nothing happens over the course of Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood.’”

Take a peek at the trailer:

THE PARENTS

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

They’re a couple who got married too young and have already hit Splitsville by the time we meet them, and both people are flawed and complicated characters for whom we feel immense compassion. Mason Sr. is in most respects a better dad than the sequence of abusive, alcoholic husbands Olivia tries out later, but he’s also an irresponsible GTO-driving Peter Pan type, who wants all the most dramatic parts of fatherhood without putting in the work. Our sympathy flows most naturally toward Olivia, an undeniably heroic single mom with a pattern of dubious decision-making. Part questing spirit and part nesting instinct, she keeps pushing her kids around the Lone Star State in search of an elusive dream of normalcy and stability, before understanding she must create and define those things for herself.

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Whenever Olivia finds a decent man, she marries him, until such time that his temper becomes too much to bear. The first of these separations brings dramatic fireworks early in the film, rendered all the more intense by the fact that Mason and Samantha are forced to leave their new siblings behind with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather (Marco Perella).”

RESILIENCE OF THE KIDS

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “With all the geographic, educational, parental and emotional adjustments Mason and Samantha are forced to make, they do pretty well, all things considered…With all the childhood traumas, extreme behavior and tragedies that have been depicted in both narrative and documentary films over the last couple of decades, it’s both bracing and refreshing to see more normal (if far from ideal) youthful experience represented in such a nonmelodramatic and credible way.”

Jan 13

“August: Osage County”–A Strong Film Adaptation

Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for the semi-autobiographical Broadway play he’s now adapted for the screen. As described on IMDB, the film August: Osage County, directed by John Wells, is “(a) look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.”

Although the movie is the only version I’ve seen, it’s easy to envision how the play would also have powerfully and rivetingly revealed the various layers of family dysfunction involved. One who actually can make the comparison to the original, Scott FoundasVariety, concludes, “…(T)his two-ton prestige pic won’t win the hearts of highbrow critics or those averse to door-slamming, plate-smashing, top-of-the-lungs histrionics, but as a faithful filmed record of Letts’ play, one could have scarcely hoped for better.”

When alcoholic poet Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing just days after he hires young Johnna (Misty Upham) to help take care of the house and his pill-popping cancer-stricken wife Violet (Meryl Streep), the latter turns to her adult kids. There’s the middle daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), the one who’s stayed nearby; the eldest, Barbara (Julia Roberts), who brings her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) from Colorado; and the flighty, self-involved Karen (Juliette Lewis), who lives in Florida and is recently engaged to slick and sleazy Steve (Dermot Mulroney).

Also on the scene are Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale) and her husband (Chris Cooper) and their adult though seemingly emotionally stunted son (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Very little is seen of Beverly, by the way, who early on is found to have drowned himself. It’s the intensely dramatic interactions among different constellations of family members following the funeral that comprise the meat of the movie. Fortunately, there are sufficient doses of intermittent humor as well.

Watch the trailer for August: Osage County below:

More About Matriarch Violet

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “It’s both ironic and tragic that she’s suffering from mouth cancer. Her mouth burns and her tongue feels as if it’s on fire, she insists, but that doesn’t stop her from spewing verbal venom.”

Owen Gleiberman, ew.com: “…(S)he’s so drugged up on pharmaceuticals that it’s hard to say where the medicine leaves off and the self-medicating begins.”

Some Family Dynamics

Ian BuckwalterNPR: “Everyone here has pain, everyone has secrets, and while we join these characters for a short time, it’s easy to see that the cycles of lies, distrust, and abuse go back for generations, clinging to this family like the hot summer dust of the empty plains that surround them.”

Rex ReedNew York Observer: “This is a story about people bonded by blood but doing what they must to destroy each other—partly out of fear and panic, but also out of twisted love. The more they reveal about themselves, and each other, the more they come to realize how they don’t know each other at all. In the stifling angst of an unbearable Oklahoma August, they merely occupy the same space in a house of strangers.”

Overview of August: Osage County

Owen Gleibermanew.com: “The fights, insults, and sadistic parent-child mind games, the powerhouse acting that shades into overacting (though I’ll be damned if you could say exactly when)…the movie is red meat for anyone who thrives on a certain brand of punchy, in-your-face emotional shock value.”

The Writer, Tracy Letts, Speaks

Letts, interviewed on NPR, believes the material asks these ultimate questions: “Do you have a choice? Are you your brother’s keeper? When does your responsibility to your family end, and when should your responsibility to yourself take over?”

In an article in Slant, Letts states the following about another key element:

…I’ve been sober for over 20 years, and I’m a subscriber of AA and its philosophies. So there probably is something in there about my belief that a certain giving up of control is good for the soul. I certainly think that, in August: Osage County, that moment in the play when Barbara insists she’s ‘running things now’ was always a choice moment for the audience, and it’s in the film as well. And I think it taps into something that people feel, particularly in regard to their families: ‘Oh my god, if you would just do what I want you to do we’d be so much better off. If you’d just behave the way I feel you should behave.’ As opposed to allowing people to make their own choices, for good or ill.

Jan 22

“Calling Dr. Laura” by Nicole Georges

In the brand new graphic memoir Calling Dr. Laura, author Nicole Georges finds out at the age of 23 that the father she thought was dead is actually alive. She calls well-known advisor Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Although her title immediately drew me in, it also raised some fear: Does Dr. Laura, widely viewed as a foe of progressive ideology, figure too prominently in this young author’s book?

I mean, she’s right there. In the title. Calling Dr. Laura.

No need to worry, though. It turns out the title refers only to a cameo appearance.

Interestingly, therapy is involved in the author’s process of dealing with her troubling family dynamics. Furthermore, from the publisher’s book description: “Calling Dr. Laura tells the story of what happens to you when you are raised in a family of secrets, and what happens to your brain (and heart) when you learn the truth from an unlikely source. Part coming-of-age and part coming-out story, Calling Dr. Laura marks the arrival of an exciting and winning new voice in graphic literature.”

Her father’s existence isn’t the only secret, you see. Another belongs to Georges, who too has been lying, though this is about her sexuality.

In the trailer below, the author explains, among other things, why she chose Dr. Laura when she needed some special help:

Selected Reviews of Calling Dr. Laura

Carmen Gimenez Smith, NPR: “Although Calling Dr. Laura might not mine the depths of family history as deeply as a conventional memoir, it’s a beautiful and innovative portrait of a young adult who’s moving away from old family stories toward creating new ones of her own.”

From another graphic memoirist, Alison Bechdel: “Nicole Georges spins a riveting family mystery. There’s a powerful chemistry going on between her delicate drawings and the probing honesty of her investigations. ‘Calling Dr. Laura’ is disarming and haunting, hip and sweet, all at once.”

Author Eileen Myles: “Nicole J. Georges’ graphic memoir is simply an epic for our time. Anyone with a family, who loves dogs, who needs advice and wants to understand the inner workings of a complex and magical female artist must read ‘Calling Dr. Laura.’ I couldn’t put this memoir down for a couple of long great evenings, and I’m still shaken by her animating, wide and searching squares.”

Dec 30

“30 Rock” Therapy: Jack Role-Plays Tracy’s Shrink

Coworkers. Often they become kind of a second family—and sometimes they feel as or more important than your real one. If you’ve had some time off for the holidays, perhaps you’re missing them. If so, try the following episode of sitcom 30 Rock on for size. You’ll appreciate the 30 Rock therapy scene.

On this sitcom about the production of a sketch comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is often both troubled and troubling to those around him. But he still seems loved and appreciated for who he is.

In one episode from Season Two titled “Rosemary’s Baby,” his boss, Jack (Alec Baldwin), brings in a therapist to offer some needed assistance to Tracy regarding his relationships with his (real) family. The shrink, however, clearly isn’t up to the formidable task that is Tracy. Nor does she know (how to handle) Jack.

30 Rock therapy described in Wikipedia: “…Jack role-plays Tracy’s father, Tracy, and Tracy’s mom, among several other people from Tracy’s childhood, conveying the message that even though Tracy’s parents may have divorced, they still loved him. This comforts Tracy, and affirms that while he loves his family, they are crazy, and he needs to stay away from them. Tracy hugs Jack, and tells him that he is the only family he needs.”

Watch the scene below:

Some Featured Favorite Quotes on IMDB

Tracy Jordan: I don’t need the therapy! I’m just mentally ill!

Tracy: [to his psychiatrist] Who’s crazier, me or Ann Curry?

Tracy’s Father: Tracy, don’t stare directly at the sun. It’ll make you crazy. Tracy Jordan: You’re not my dad!

Wikipedia offers a sampling of reviews, which I’m providing in bullet format:

  • ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was named as one of the ‘Top 11 TV Episodes of 2007’ by UGO
  • …ranked thirteenth on The Futon Critic‘s list of ‘the 50 Best Episodes of 2007’
  • Matt Webb Mitovich of TV Guide declared it as ‘one of 30 Rock’s best episodes ever
  • Bob Sassone of TV Squad…called the therapy scene “one of the funniest scenes…on TV this season”
  • Robert Canning of IGN…called the therapy scene “the best moment of the episode”