For years, lazy screenwriters have ham-fistedly signaled the emotional growth of marijuana-smoking protagonists by having them throw away their pot, or flush it down the toilet. Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg could subsist for centuries on all the pot discarded by older, wiser, more mature film characters. Jonas Pate’s Shrink goes even further. It isn’t enough to merely show Kevin Spacey’s grief-addled cheeba-fiend getting rid of his stash; no, he must then return, doobie-free, to the spot where he smoked pot. And he has to explain to a precocious client (Keke Palmer) that he used to love smoking pot in that exact spot, but no longer feels the need to, what with his astonishing emotional growth and development and whatnot.
Shot on shitty digital video, Shrink casts Spacey as a superstar psychiatrist who has been self-medicating with marijuana and alcohol since his wife died. He drifts through life with deep black bags under his eyes and a listless affect, hurting every bit as much as his roster of eclectic clients, which includes Robin Williams in an extended cameo as a movie star struggling to control his sexual urges. Spacey is a healer who needs to be healed, a shrink desperately in need of round-the-clock counseling. He’s part of a circle of grief and suffering that has become ubiquitous in Sundance-ready independent films. Luckily for Spacey, he’s in the kind of drama where the inevitable bottoming-out is followed by an equally inevitable shot at redemption.
Though its muddy aesthetic is distracting throughout, Shrink gets off to a reasonably promising start. For a while, it appears that Spacey has actually been given a decent role for the first time in ages (not counting his scene-stealing voiceover turn in Moon), but it soon becomes apparent that Shrink is exactly like virtually all his post-American Beauty vehicles: flashy, phony, nakedly melodramatic, and full of big actorly moments disconnected from real life. By the time Gore Vidal, of all people, asks Spacey—on live television, no less—why people commit suicide, leading Spacey to have a nervous breakdown on air, it becomes clear Shrink has lost its way as thoroughly as any of its aimless, deeply troubled characters.