Screenwriter, heal thyself

Numb

on April 30, 2007 by John P. McCarthy
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Continuing a prominent theme at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, the psychiatric profession takes it on the chin in a lax comedy from writer/director Harris Goldberg. Matthew Perry stars as Hudson Milbank, a squirrelly Hollywood screenwriter who experiences a meltdown after smoking a joint. Initially diagnosed with depersonalization disorder, Hudson gets so freaked out he can't function, a form of paralysis that suggests his psyche is actually in fine working order. Unable or unwilling to collaborate with his writing partner (Kevin Pollak), staring at the Golf Channel and obsessing about obsessing are all he's good for; consulting multiple shrinks and popping pills makes his condition worse. Only the love of a buxom, easygoing woman will help, and that job falls to Sara, played by Lynn Collins. You know he's on the road to recovery because they go lawn bowling and visit a strip club—and because they break up.

To throw a clinical label at it, Numb suffers from a split personality. It thinks it is a darkly perceptive satire yet exhibits the tendencies of a routine adult romantic-comedy. Static camerawork and editing result in one head shot after another, and the production has an acute displacement malady, traceable to the fact British Columbia can't pass for Los Angeles. Moreover, Hudson's tendency to shoplift and a subplot about his mother's horrendous parenting aren't developed.

Anyone familiar with the short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip knows Perry is a dab hand at portraying witty nervous Nellies who write for the screen, big and little. He and his fellow Numb actors are a notch above the material, which is hardly devoid of humor, especially when skewering a parade of fatuous therapists: Bob Gunton plays a distant Harvard-trained psychiatrist prone to napping during sessions, and Mary Steenburgen's turn as frisky cognitive therapist is a scream.

Over the course of a long 93 minutes, however, Numb proves more awkward than funny. Goldberg tries to cram too much into his autobiographical script, and not even the cursing in it rings true—a sure sign the edginess is being forced.
Distributor: No distributor set
Cast: Matthew Perry, Lynn Collins, Kevin Pollak, Bob Gunton, Helen Shaver, William B. Davis and Mary Steenburgen
Director/Screenwriter: Harris Goldberg
Producer: Kirk Shaw
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 93 min.
Release date:  TBD
Tags: Matthew Perry, Lynn Collins, Kevin Pollak, Bob Gunton, Helen Shaver, William B. Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Harris Goldberg, Kirk Shaw, Comedy, funny, autobiographical, romantic, comedy, split personality
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