This is a cleverly updated version of a 1930’s movie staple — a genial small-town comedy with eccentric but endearing characters and a leading man who is not what he pretends to be. Loren Dean plays Doctor Mumford, a psychologist who has become very popular after just a few months in town (also called Mumford), despite unconventional methods of treatment. He refuses to treat a patient he finds annoying (Martin Short) and casually reveals information from his sessions to other people. But he is a good listener, his patients like him, and he seems to have real insight. Most important, he really helps them.
His patients seem to have a wide variety of problems. A pharmacist lives in a world of pulp-fiction fantasies. A wealthy woman is a compulsive shopper. A teen-age girl wants to look like the models in fashion magazines. A beautiful young woman (Hope Davis) has chronic fatigue syndrome. And a high-tech billionaire named Skip (Jason Lee) just needs someone to talk to. As they talk to Mumford, though, it becomes clear that all of them have the same problem — a need to connect to another person, and a fear that they are not worthy. And it turns out that Doctor Mumford has the same problem, too. He had come to Mumford (the name and the town) to escape the mistakes of his past. When he finds a real friend in Skip, he begins to be able allow someone to know the truth about his past. And when he falls in love with one of his patients, he realizes that he has to tell everyone the truth about himself and be accountable for his past mistakes.
Writer/director Lawrence Kasden brings his “Big Chill” ability to create a believable world with many interesting and engaging characters struggling with issues of intimacy and risk. Doctor Mumford says that his hope for his pharmacist patient is to make him comfortable enough to star in his own fantasies. In a way, that is what he does for all of his patients, even himself, only to find that they can then move on to the real thing.
Parents should know that this movie has a lot of mature material, including nudity and sexual references and drug abuse. Mature teens will appreciate the struggles of the teen-age characters to find a way to feel good enough about themselves to enter into a relationship, and the disconnect between the words and the feelings of Mumford’s teen-age patient. Families should discuss the role that families play in the way each member sees himself, and how the families in the movie help or hurt each other.
Note: Listen for the pharmacist’s comment about “the lost ark,” a reference to one of Kasden’s most famous screenplays.