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.)

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.”

Apr 20

“Little Miss Sunshine”: The Pleasure of Their Dysfunction

In my opinion, perhaps the most loveable dysfunctional family ever on film is that of Little Miss Sunshine (2006).

Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette), a harried chain-smoking mom, invites her suicidal intellectual gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) to stay with her and her family. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a wannabe self-help guru—who’s unsuccessful himself. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) currently isn’t speaking. Grandpop Edwin (Alan Arkin) is addicted to heroin and was ousted from his elder care facility.

And that leaves seven-year-old chubby and bubbly Olive (Abigail Breslin), who just wants to win a beauty pageant—and isn’t really cut out for such things.

One could argue that all of the family members in Little Miss Sunshine should be in therapy—separately, together, whatever—but of course they aren’t. Instead, they’re all taking a road trip—in support of Olive’s dream.

Below, the trailer:

Selected Reviews

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: “It takes a deft hand to fashion a feel-good movie with plenty of laughs and an upbeat ending out of a story that includes drug addiction, a suicide attempt, a death, Nietzsche, and Proust.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “If anything, the recent film it most recalls is You Can Count on Me (2000), another small treasure about a fractured family that managed to be moving without troweling on the sap. Little Miss Sunshine has some elements of farce, including extended sequences of physical comedy and an unlikely, exuberant finale. But it takes its characters very seriously indeed, and affords them a measure of dignity even at their most ridiculous.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: “…a dysfunctional-family comedy with a crucial difference — the function progresses, hilariously, from dys to full and loving.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “This bittersweet comedy of dysfunction takes place at the terminus of the American dream, where families are one bad break away from bankruptcy.”

David Rooney, Variety: “A quietly antic dysfunctional family road trip comedy that shoots down the all-American culture of the winner and offers sweet redemption for losers — or at least the ordinary folks often branded as such.”