Oct 09

“Unbelievable” Therapist: Major Turning Point

There are many significant turning points in the highly regarded new Netflix series Unbelievable, which is based on a true contemporary case of a series of unsolved rapes. One such turning point occurs toward the end, when the first victim we’ve seen, 18-year-old long-term foster child Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), is mandated to therapy. The Unbelievable therapist: Dara Kaplan, deftly played by Brooke Smith.

Caution, readers: More spoilers ensue.

It’s important to first note that immediately following her sexual assault Marie is found by cops to be “unbelievable” regarding the details. Their treatment of her is indefensible and “unbelievable” of a different sort. As a result, she buckles under the pressure and recants. Over the course of most of the series her life becomes so unmanageable we wonder if she’ll make it out alive.

Meanwhile, two female detectives (Toni Collette, Merritt Wever) who don’t know yet about Marie’s rape are teaming up to investigate subsequent assaults. Eventually they’ll learn of Marie’s allegation as well.

In the seventh of eight episodes, Marie faces the consequences of filing false charges (that are not false at all, remember.) She’s admitted to no one that she lied about lying. An overworked but kind public defender works out a deal for Marie, which involves, among other things, going to therapy.

Therapist Dara lets Marie, who has no faith in talking things out, be silent throughout much of her first session. Eventually, though, Dara encourages her to just talk about a movie she’s seen recently. Make the time go by faster.

This use of pop culture winds up giving Dara some insight. Dara tells Marie, “Whether you were raped that night, or invented a story about being raped that night, I think the truth is you’ve been violated.” Moreover, it’s clear that Marie’s been let down by others, and Dara would like to help by listening to her story—but it’s Marie’s choice.

With only minutes left in the session, it becomes clear Marie will share. Alec Bojalad, DenofGeek, provides further transcript of how the session proceeds.

‘So basically you were assaulted twice. Once by your attacker, and once by the police,’ Dr. Dara says.
‘I guess,’ Marie says.
‘I am so sorry, Marie. It’s brave of you to revisit it. It’s not easy. Can I ask you one thing before you go? Understanding that none of this was your fault, it was something that was imposed on you, I wonder if there’s something of value you can take from it. This might not be the last time in your life that you’re misunderstood or mistrusted. I just wonder if there’s a way to think about it. About how you might manage this kind of injustice if it were to happen again.’
Marie thinks about the doctor’s words for a moment, then begins a careful, halting response that is utterly devastating.
‘I know I’m supposed to say that if I were to do it over, I wouldn’t lie. But the truth is, I would lie earlier. And better. I would just figure it out on my own. By myself. No matter how much someone says they care about you – they just don’t. Not enough. I mean, maybe they mean to or they try to but other things end up being more important. So yeah, I guess I’d start with that. Lying. Cuz even with good people, even with people you can kind of trust – if the truth is inconvenient, if the truth doesn’t like fit, they don’t believe it. Even if they really care about you. They just don’t.’

You can watch the scene below. Note that it also includes powerful snippets from what’s correspondingly happening elsewhere, i.e., the detectives watching contents of a recovered hard drive found in the possession of the newly identified assailant of known victims. (Marie is not yet known to them.)

Mar 11

“Glassland”: Children of Alcoholics In the Forefront

The film is told not through the eyes of a drinker, but somebody who cannot stop a loved one from drinking. Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com, about Glassland

In Gerard Barrett‘s Glassland, a newish indie on DVD, Toni Collette‘s Jean “is a late-stage drunk whose liver is all but pickled, and for all practical purposes she doesn’t much care,” reports Ella Taylor, NPR. Jean, it seems, is drinking herself to death.

Taylor goes on to describe Jean’s older son John’s predicament:

On the cusp of adult life, John [Jack Reynor] is spinning his wheels as the family fixer. When not rescuing his mother from yet another bender, he keeps house, sort of, and shows up, armed with a card he says Jean wrote, for the birthday party of his institutionalized younger brother, Kit (Harry Nagle), who has Down syndrome…John, for his part, is stuck fast in a state of perpetual emergency, and things seem to get worse when, in order to get his mother the extra time in the extended rehab she needs, he takes on a gig that threatens to make him an accessory to human trafficking.

Watch the Glassland trailer below:

As many Glassland critics indicate, John could be seen as the classic enabler, the fixer, the caretaker. But Oktay Ege Kozak, The Playlist, offers apt wisdom on the lousiness of his circumstances:

Dealing with a beloved relative or friend who’s an addict is a double-edged sword. Common sense dictates that if an addict is mad at you, you’re probably helping them get better, but if they’re happy when they’re around you, you’re probably their enabler. If you want your loved one to be happy and jolly all the time, you will more than likely have to accept that they will eventually kill themselves via their drug of choice. If you want to save them, you will have to turn yourself into a willing receptacle for all of their hate and bitterness.

Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com, also nails the crux of John’s dilemma:

…It’s an impossible predicament. The sober person feels a deep sense of responsibility coupled with frustration over not being able to do anything that will unquestionably, tangibly help. It’s ultimately up to the addict to decide to change. Jean’s not there yet. Jack [John] worries that she’ll never get there, that she’ll just keep drinking and drinking and then she’ll be gone, and he’ll blame himself, even though her life wasn’t his to save, and he did the best he could.

Two real-life experts who provide guidance regarding Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) issues are Jane Middelton-Moz and Janet G. WoititzFrom the former’s After the Tears: Helping Adult Children of Alcoholics Heal Their Childhood Trauma, a description of what ACOA’s face:

Most Adult Children report that they have always felt that they were a ‘mess’ deep down and have protected themselves and others from the embarrassment of seeing or feeling that ‘mess.’ They have felt alone in a crowd or isolated all their lives. They have taken care of others compulsively, but never let others care for them. They have sought out relationships where needs weren’t possible, or intimacy could never be achieved. Children of Alcoholics tend to have caseloads, not friends, and feel that they have to work harder than anyone else—to be more perfect, tougher, or more independent and in control. They feel they must hide the craziness they feel inside, and they must earn the right to have relationships or merely live in the world like everyone else.

Pertinent quotes from Woititz’s Struggle For Intimacy:

“You have grown up to be the perfect doormat for an inconsiderate person. Often you end up in a perfect give-and-take relationship…you give, they take.”

“...COAs’ [children of alcoholics] greatest difficulties are in the area of their relationship with themselves. Their greatest difficulty is the lack of ability to experience themselves as valuable and worthy and lovable. Their greatest assets are a capability of offering you the sense that you are valuable and worthy and lovable. There is much to be gained from being involved with a COA.”

For more info regarding ACOA recovery, consider ACOA support groups, Al-Anon meetings, and therapy from professionals trained in these issues.

Oct 10

“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: A Shrink Needs Help

IMDB‘s headline-worthy description of the new film Hector and the Search for Happiness: “A psychiatrist searches the globe to find the secret of happiness.” Tagline: Everyone wants to find it.

A sampling of some actual headlines from the critics:

  • …Simon Pegg Woefully Miscast in This Imbecilic Waste of Time (The Wrap)
  • Search for happiness turns up pap in cloying ‘Hector’ (The Detroit News)
  • ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ not a blissful encounter (Los Angeles Times)

Hector and the Search for Happiness is based on a bestselling book by François Lelorda psychiatrist himself.

The Story

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: [It’s]…”about precisely what its title indicates. Hector (Simon Pegg), a London psychiatrist, has a successful practice, a lovely apartment and a charming and successful girlfriend named Clara (Rosamund Pike), and yet he’s dissatisfied with his life. So off he goes, on a trip that encompasses China, Africa and Los Angeles, in search of what it is that makes us happy.”

Some of the critiques have focused on the simplicity and unoriginality of the script. Well, maybe, as director Peter Chelsom has suggested, audiences just don’t understand how it’s being told—that it’s “kind of like a fable,” as star Simon Pegg points out to Nick Patch, 680News. “…(T)here’s a reason why it’s told in archetypes…It’s like, this is how a kid would tell you the story.”

The Characters

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post, introduces us to some of the people Hector meets in his travels: “…a hot Chinese hooker (Ming Zhao)” as well as “a rich, cynical banker (Stellan Skarsgard); an old friend of Hector’s who has become an aid worker after coming out as gay (Barry Atsma); a ruthless drug lord (Jean Reno) with a mentally ill wife; a woman dying of cancer (Chantel Herman); and a wise old monk (Togo Igawa).”

Before going back to Clara, he also sees old flame Agnes (Toni Collette), who’s now married with kids.

The Trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness

More About Hector

Peter Keough, Boston Globe: “So why is he not happy? In part, as a montage of whining clients indicates (Hector sketches unflattering pictures of them in his notebook as he listens), it’s because he’s not making his patients any happier. Although his indifference and contempt might explain that failure, he decides he must search the world and ask random people whether they are happy and why.”

About Happiness

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post: “Spoiler alert: Happiness has to do with loving others and self-acceptance. If that’s something you have to fly to Shanghai to find out, save yourself the airfare and see this movie instead.”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: [The film] “…treats happiness as an easily-digestible cross-stitched homily, the kind hung as harmless decorations in people’s living rooms. It’s chain-mail wisdom, sprinkled with balloons and kitty-cat faces, forwarded by people with too much time on their hands. It’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-lite, and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ was already ‘lite.'”

Selected Reviews

Justin Chang, Variety: “Happiness means steering clear of ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness.’ A supremely irritating marriage of picture-postcard exoticism and motivational uplift…(L)ike an “Eat Pray Love” remake for men with too much time, money and existential ennui on their hands. Trite, flat-footed, culturally insensitive…”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “As beautifully filmed as the worldwide tour often is (the film was shot by Kolja Brandt), ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ has an undeniable strain of poverty tourism, mixed with the insulting belief that those who have nothing somehow hold the secret to life.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “In its conflation of happiness and self-knowledge, ‘Hector’ often feels like the visual approximation of a therapy session. And just as therapy is work, enduring this mess is exertion, too.”

Jul 18

“A Long Way Down”: Suicide Postponed By Topper House Four

A Long Way Down, the film adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel, caught my attention because of its theme: on New Year’s Eve four different individuals meet each other on the way (down) to suicide.

Many of the movie’s reviewers, however, have decidedly panned A Long Way Down. A couple excerpts:

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…(I)n movie form, it’s worse than tacky, trivializing depression for a handful of easy laughs and pop-psychology platitudes.”

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “’A Long Way Down’ is a film that’s afraid of its subject matter: suicidal depression. One never senses any actual danger or urgency in the plight of these characters to battle their demons before they kill them, and the lack of any sense that these people might actually end their lives drains the piece of drama.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, offers a concise summary of the film and its characters:

All have reasons to end it all, and they meet at the top of a London tower block, a notorious suicide spot (perhaps a conflation of London’s Hornsey Lane Bridge and the ineffably grim Archway Tower).

A farcical turn of fate means they collectively decide not to go through with it, and form a supportive ‘gang’, whose brush with despair makes them of interest to the facile and exploitative media world.

Who are the “Topper House Four,” as they come to be known? Tim Robey, Telegraph:

Pierce Brosnan is Martin, a former breakfast TV host whose dalliance with a 15-year old (‘she looked 25’) has led to the abrupt end of his career and a stint in prison. Imogen Poots is Jess, manic-depressive pixie daughter of an MP (Sam Neill). Aaron Paul is JJ, a pizza delivery boy claiming to have brain cancer. And Toni Collette, making the best of it, is Maureen, a frumpy single mum whose son has cerebral palsy.

Says Peter Debruge, Variety, “Each of these individuals is a walking cliche, incapable of an original thought, even when it comes to making his or her exit.”

The trailer for A Long Way Down:


Brian Viner, Daily Mail: “…(D)irector Pascal Chaumeil doesn’t seem quite sure whether to play the story for laughs or to squeeze every pip of poignancy from it.” 

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “…something like a non-musical Mamma Mia! for self-harmers: a wince-inducing parade of misjudgments and false notes. It is a fantastically unconvincing and unfunny movie, apparently determined to salvage a feel-good flavour from feel-bad material.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Plenty will find it adorable; the rest will be left wanting to slit their wrists.”

Sep 30

“Enough Said”: Romance with a Twist

If you’ve heard anything about the new film Enough Said by writer/director Nicole Holofcener, you’re probably aware of the poignant presence of James Gandolfini. And this isn’t even his last movie project to be released posthumously; one more will be coming eventually.

For me, Holofcener’s movies—which include Walking and TalkingLovely and Amazing, and Friends with Money—tend to hit on themes pertinent to women’s development and interpersonal relationships in a way that’s relatively low-key but nevertheless interesting and meaningful. This one’s no exception.

The basic plot of Enough Said, per IMDB: “A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.” And, it must be added, she doesn’t reveal her discovery to either one of them. She continues, rather, to let her new friend unknowingly serve as a sort of negative “TripAdvisor” for this dating experience and to set her new beau up for eventual humiliation.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the lead Eva, a massage therapist. Gandolfini is the romantic interest Albert. Each has anticipatory grief regarding his/her only child (daughters) preparing to leave the nest for college. Catherine Keener is the new friend Marianne, who’s also a client of Eva’s.

A.O. Scott, New York Times, on the way things unfold:

To Eva, Albert is a sweet, sexy, affable slob, but his ex remembers him as a bore and a loser, clumsy in bed and incapable of taking care of himself. Partly because she is dazzled by the friendship of someone who writes incomprehensible verse, serves exotic iced tea and hangs out with Joni Mitchell, Eva absorbs Marianne’s perspective and tries, with obnoxious good intentions, to correct Albert’s faults.

States Justin ChangVariety, about some of the issues raised by this situation:

Suffice to say that Eva’s ongoing assessment of Albert, compulsively rearranging his pros and cons, leads her into a moral gray zone that forces her to grapple with some difficult if hardly new questions: Why are some couples compatible and others are not? How can one woman’s ex be another’s soul mate? Is self-improvement possible, or is happiness more a matter of acceptance and compromise?

Eva’s good friend Sarah (Toni Collette) happens to be a therapist who tries to discourage Eva’s participation in deceptive behavior. She’s also seen, in non-Hollywood-type fashion, showing appropriate therapist boundaries. When Skyping with Eva from her office, for example, she always ends conversations when a client arrives (which Eva notices first from the special light that comes on behind Sarah). In addition, Sarah resists playful attempts from Eva to get her to tell stories about her patients that would break confidentiality.

As A.O. Scott concludes, however, about Sarah’s marriage to Will (Ben Falcone), they “exist in a state of easy, affectionate tolerance that is often hard to distinguish from seething contempt.”

And Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com, further notes that Sarah’s “a therapist who clearly might benefit from getting psychiatric help given her furniture-rearranging obsession and passive-aggressive relationship with her inept housekeeper.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

The final scenes have such impact because Ms. Holofcener has struck a buried nerve, uncovered a zone of anxiety, fear and hope that has rarely been explored with such empathy or precision. Eva, like many of us, lives in a world where the rules and roles are puzzling — where parental authority is negotiable, marriage vows are revocable and social boundaries are never clearly marked.

Even so, the primal values of right and wrong — the requirements of compassion, honesty and honorable action — still apply. It is easy to make mistakes and hard to correct them, easy to be funny and hard to be good.