Jul 17

“Boulevard”: Robin Williams Heads for a More Authentic Life

Director Dito Montiel‘s agreeable later-life coming-out drama “Boulevard” already labors under a burden of true tragedy: It’s the last dramatic role the late Robin Williams filmed before his August 2014 suicide, the knowledge of which colors and shapes a viewer’s reaction to the film. James Rocchi, The Wrap, about Boulevard

Rex Reed, New York Observer, introduces Boulevard:

In one of his most touching and nuanced performances, the actor of many faces and master of twice as many voices plays a polite, reserved and unassuming man named Nolan Mack—a cultured, educated and repressed officer of a bank in Nashville, Tenn., where he has worked for 26 years, with a father in a nursing home and a devoted schoolteacher wife named Joy (another performance, real as breathing, by the marvelous Kathy Baker). They appreciate the same music, movies and books as well as small dinners with friends, share the household duties and then formally retire to separate bedrooms. Nolan has no vices and no outstanding virtues, either. He’s been a blank page since he had his first sexual experience with another boy at the age of 12 and then erased it from his life for five decades. This is the year when everything changes.

Peter Debruge, Variety, tells us how:

Returning home from a visit to his father in the retirement home one night, Nolan upsets his routine with a rare impulsive decision. He’s driven by the streetwalkers who line the boulevard countless times without ever so much as acknowledging them. Now, for some reason, he pulls up alongside them, clearly trying to muster the courage to speak to one of them when a young man steps in front of his car. Despite his tawdry profession and strung-out look, Leo (Roberto Aguire) may as well be an angel fallen from heaven, and Nolan accepts the offer to give him a ride without ever collecting on the implied double entendre.

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporterelaborates:

…The two begin an intermittent (paid) relationship that, however positive their encounters are, is strange enough it inevitably creates problems for both men: Nolan makes excuses for being out late that Joy knows are lies; Leo is so thrown by having a customer not want sex that he responds erratically…

We get a feel for the healthier part of Nolan’s world over lunches and dinners with his best friend Winston (Bob Odenkirk), a college professor who dates his students…

It’s Winston, by the way, who winds up expressing (to Nolan) a main theme: “Maybe it’s never too late to finally start living the life you really want.” 

You can watch the trailer for Boulevard here:

Williams As Nolan

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “…(H)e may be the loneliest man Mr. Williams ever played. Under his bland exterior, he is emotionally curled into a fetal position. The performance is so convincing that you can’t help wondering to what degree Nolan resembles the more somber Robin Williams…”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…(T)he actor projects a regret so deep and identifiable, viewers should have no trouble connecting it to whatever is missing in their own lives — whether those regrets are romantic, sexual, professional or spiritual.”

Andrew Lapin, NPR: “It’s an exquisite performance, and one with unmissable glimpses of some deep depression.”

Aug 15

Why Someone Commits Suicide: Understanding It–Or Not

Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.  Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, on why someone commits suicide

Why someone commits suicide is often a mystery.

But we still wonder.

Although Robin Williams once quipped that “comedy is so much cheaper than therapy,” he’d reportedly also sought help for his addictions and depression. So. Why? people ask. Everyone’s trying to figure it out.

Every day there’s more info, but info isn’t the same as answers. In this situation as well as others, we don’t tend to ever find out or understand all the possible answers.

One highly respected expert who has studied this topic is Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. Two more quotes (in addition to the one above) from her 2000 book Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide are offered below.

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.”

“It is tempting when looking at the life of anyone who has committed suicide to read into the decision to die a vastly complex web of reasons; and, of course, such complexity is warranted. No one illness or event causes suicide; and certainly no one knows all, or perhaps even most, of the motivations behind the killing of the self. But psychopathology is almost always there, and its deadliness is fierce. Love, success, and friendship are not always enough to counter the pain and destructiveness of severe mental illness.”

Another leading researcher on why someone commits suicide is Professor Thomas Joiner, author of several pertinent books. He believes there are three main contributing factors: feeling a burden to others; loneliness and isolation; and lacking fear.

As the first two may be more readily grasped than the third, here’s a deeper description of the latter concept from Joiner’s Myths About Suicide (2010):

Getting used to pain, injury, and death — becoming fearless about it — is, according to my theory, a prerequisite for serious suicidal behavior. People get used to such things by having repeatedly experienced them, often through previous self-injury, but other painful experiences serve too. A corollary to this view is that the self-preservation drive — the fear of pain, injury, and death — protects people from death by suicide (which is why this fear should remain more or less intact). This corollary is supported time and again by cases of people who report that they genuinely desired to die by suicide, but that their bodies would not allow it (e.g., people have cut at their veins for hours, only to eventually surrender to their bodies’ ability to clot the wounds).

Having a longstanding pattern of substance abuse is one possible way the body becomes inured to self-harm and/or pain. Others include (Todd Kashdan, Psychology Today):

  • playing violent and extreme sports
  • getting multiple body piercings and tattoos
  • shooting guns
  • getting in physical fights

Why? isn’t the only question, of course, that arises when someone kills himself. For more resources and help, see the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.

Mar 21

“The Face of Love”: A Psychological Love Story with Annette Bening

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter, sets up the premise of the Vertigo-compared The Face of Lovea new psychological love story:

Depicting an episode of grief-fueled insanity that might tempt anyone in the same situation, Arie Posin‘s The Face of Love offers a widow who, upon meeting her husband’s doppelganger five years after his death, can’t help but pretend he’s the man she’s loved her whole life. Annette Bening captivates as the self-delusionist, with Ed Harris ruggedly irresistible as the object of her fantasy.

Nikki had been married about 30 years when she became a widow—her husband Garrett drowned while out swimming one night. Since then her life hasn’t been the same, of course. Meeting the lookalike Tom (who’s divorced from Amy Brenneman‘s character) is one thing, but not telling him why she’s so drawn to him—not even that the man he so closely resembles is dead—is another.

In similar fashion, she also avoids letting either her friend Roger (Robin Williams) or her daughter (Jess Weixler) meet Tom.

You can watch the trailer for The Face of Love below:

The reviews so far have been less than stellar, with more kudos going to the actors than anything else. Some excerpts follow:

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “It’s a maudlin, superficial exercise in obsession masquerading as a heartfelt romance and study of grief, and character development is sorely lacking.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “…verges on ludicrous, but ultimately succeeds at conveying one person’s complicated yet emotionally rational response to a highly irrational situation.”

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times: “…(T)he main attractions are Ed Harris and a deeply appealing Annette Bening as two — actually, make that three — characters brought together by fate and a screenplay that promisingly flirts with fantasy only to come crashing down to bummer earth.”

John DeForeHollywood Reporter: “Posin and co-screenwriter Matthew McDuffie find a wholly credible resolution to this love story, but they can’t resist a coda that is pat enough (especially in its final shot) to be described as tacky. It’s an end as emotionally tidy as the premise is thorny.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “A trite, unconvincing ending, in the form of a credo, finally succumbs to the kind of melodrama the rest of the movie successfully avoids and leaves an unsettling aftertaste. But the acting is bliss.”

Apr 06

“Patch Adams”: Healing Mentally and Medically Through Humor

In the 1998 movie Patch Adams, which is loosely based on a real life, Robin Williams plays the title character who admits himself to a mental hospital after attempting suicide.

Here’s what happens next, as described by reviewer Peter Stack, SFGate: “Under the cold gaze of an uncaring shrink, Adams discovers a knack for self-healing humor and tries it on other patients in his ward — with instant success.”

The scene below shows Adams instigating laughs in a group therapy session:

Unfortunately, this film got generally stinko reviews—apparently even the real Patch Adams hated it, info reportedly passed along in a Tweet by critic Roger Ebert.

Other phrases of note:

  • An overdose of sentimental claptrap (Time Out)
  • An offensive and deeply false ”inspirational” drama that idiotically indicts the entire medical profession in the service of making one man — Adams, which is to say Williams — look like a cockeyed saint (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)

And some favorable if you look hard enough:

  • ...(R)uns amok for a while but ultimately manages to become bright and substantive entertainment by letting the main character occasionally drop his aggressive cheerfulness to show his aching heart and the earnestness of his mission to get doctors more engaged with patients (Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle)
  • A sure-fire crowd-pleaser! (Phillip Wuntch, Dallas Morning News)

But all that’s just about the film.

The real Patch Adams—the person, that is—has fared much better. He is a medical doctor, clown, social activist, public speaker, and founder and director of the Gesundheit Institute, a holistic medical center that has provided free health care to many.

One of his main career contributions, of course, is that he continues to spread good cheer. As his website states, “(He) believes that the most revolutionary act one can commit in our world is to be happy.”

Oct 21

Therapist Boundaries (Violence): “Good Will Hunting,” “What About Bob?”

Do a Google search about therapist boundaries, specifically therapists and violence, and you’ll find plenty about clients attending therapy for being violent. From Psychotherapynotes.com:

…Psychotherapists can and do intervene to prevent hundreds if not thousands of acts of violence every day. We talk clients down from fits of rage, we help suicidal clients to find hope (or at least to understand what hurting themselves would do to their loved ones), we coordinate care with physicians to make sure those who need to be on medication stay on it, and when we assess imminent danger, we hospitalize or coordinate with law enforcement. The violence we prevent doesn’t make the news, but it saves many, many lives.

But can you find any reliable info about therapists being violent? Against their clients? No? Do we have to (misguidedly) look to the movies for such things?

Will (Matt Damon) in the movie Good Will Hunting (1997) is one character who has to attend therapy after an episode of violence. Finding the right shrink for Will, who trusts no one who tries to help him, turns out to be no easy feat. Well, maybe the less traditional, more directive kind of therapist we eventually find in Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) will fill the bill.

But before Will gets anywhere close to the meaningful catharsis the film wants him to have, he has to put Maguire through the usual hoops, in one instance meanly and provocatively maligning Maguire’s dead wife. What follows is this disturbing scene involving terrible therapist boundaries:

Lesson #1 (You Wouldn’t Pick Up From The Movies): It’s never okay to choke a client. (Or harm a client in any way.) (Unless, of course, in self-defense.) Even if the client then backs off and actually moves on to have one particular wowie-zowie life-changing therapy session.

Next up, there’s actually worse things a shrink can do. In the film What About Bob? (1991), the psychiatrist played by Richard Dreyfuss goes nuts himself dealing with Bob (Bill Murray), his dependent client who follows him, uninvited of course, on vacation.

Lesson #2 (You Might Not Pick Up From the Movies): Even unsuccessful attempts at killing one’s (annoying) clients are not allowed.