Written and directed by the generally soulless veteran genre-mechanic Lawrence Kasdan, Mumford is less a midnight fireworks display than a pallid ray of sunshine. Young "Doc" Mumford (Loren Dean) is the most popular shrink in the picture-postcard town of Mumford (don't ask, I won't tell), in the Pacific Northwest. Given that Mumford is a place where everyone knows your name, Doc's methods are a bit unorthodox perhaps even post-Lacanian. He terminates sessions early and summarily rejects a sleazy lawyer (well-oiled Martin Short) as a patient. He makes house calls and tells tales out of school particularly once he's hired to befriend the local cybermogul Skip (boyish Jason Lee).
Dean has a bluff, pushed-in face and a mildly hard-nosed style. The joke of his analytic personality almost works. Mumford is not quite Northern Exposure, but it's basically a sitcom way of knowledge. The near-total absence of narrative tension suggests that Doc Mumford might be engaged in some sort of scam. But then isn't psychoanalysis itself a kind of confidence game? In any case, Mumford has already established himself as the town's guardian angel and most accomplished matchmaker even before he develops a positive chemistry with a young divorcee, Sophie (Hope Davis), suffering a mysterious form of yuppie flu.
Spontaneously applauded by the press in Toronto, Mumford is good for a few chuckles and not nearly as egregious or cloying as it might have been. Like last year's Pleasantville, it's a pro-Hollywood allegory. A charismatically self-confident fake who is everything to everyone, Doc is the idealized embodiment of popular entertainment. He can cure one patient of her addiction to trashy magazines, while treating another through an infusion of other trashy magazines. (Given his underlying "don't dream, be it" ideology, it would be interesting to see how the good doctor would have counseled Teena Brandon.)
Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan
A Touchstone release
Entertainment gives and entertainment takes away. Appropriately, Mumford's secret identity is exposed by a real television show, Unsolved Mysteries. The movie's most magical shot has the shrink walking out into the small-town night and sensing the tele-glow of simultaneous awareness all around him. There's no unconscious in this town, just a wonderful collective illusion. This movie might have been made to illustrate the Frankfurt School koan that mass culture is psychoanalysis in reverse.
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