The Treatment (2006) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for Not rates, but probably R for sexuality and language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Chris Eigeman, Famke Janssen, Ian Holm, Stephanie March, Blair Brown, Stephen Lang, Roger Rees, Harris Yulin
Director: Oren Rudavsky
Screenplay: Oren Rodavsky, Daniel Saul Housman (based on the novel by Daniel Menaker)
Documentary filmmaker Oren Rudavsky (A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, Arguing the World) takes a stab at he romantic comedy genre, adapting Daniel Menaker's debut novel about Jake Singer, a lonely private school English teacher in New York (Eigeman, Maid in Manhattan) who sees a psychotherapist for his various hang-ups. His biggest hang-up stems from his inability to get over his previous relationship to a woman named Julia (March, Head of State), compounded by the fact that Julia has just announced to Jake that she is engaged to be married to someone else. Jake's psychotherapist, a stern Argentinean named Dr. Morales (Holm, Garden State), tries a method that makes Jake feel like he's antagonizing him more than helping -- a blunt, no-nonsense approach that comes off as insulting.
Despite all of Dr. Morales' advice, Jake doesn't really find anything that takes his mind off of his problems until he meets Allegra Marshall (Janssen, Hide and Seek), a rich, widowed mother to one of the boys in Jake's school. The two get to talking, and strike up a mutually flirtatious relationship, but both seem to be holding themselves back from completely giving in. They both seem to want a deeper form of relationship, and yet, neither wants to give themselves completely to a relationship just to get hurt again.
Eigeman is perfectly cast as the somewhat neurotic single guy who just can't seem to get it all together, despite being brilliant in his profession and doing what he can to help others more needy, and with bigger issues than he has. Basically, Jake is his own worst enemy, constantly trying to get his life in order, but the more he tries, the more he seems to mess things up. Eigeman's style is as it always has been -- intellectual, dryly witty, and always conflicted in a subtle way that is impossible not to find him fascinating from a performance standpoint.
Equally strong performances by the leads help this Woody Allen-ish outing, with Janssen alluring and touching in a rare subdued performance, while Holm is often so downright mean-spirited in the "help" he dishes out, it's actually quite funny -- he steals the show whenever he is on. Dr. Morales is so ingrained in Jake's psyche, he literally appears whenever he is least wanted -- a lovemaking scene has the voice of Morales constantly interrupting Jake's mojo. You're never quite sure if Morales isn't someone completely cooked up by Jake in his own mind to give himself the mental kick in the butt to help him overcome the obstacles of his own creation, or perhaps to give himself an excuse to hold back when he thinks he might get in too deep.
Rudavsky's direction is solid, and for one who has made his share of documentaries, his handling of actors is very good. His writing is equally fresh, with a good sense of characters and their interactions that feels honest and funny, but never to the point of obvious contrivance. Even a scene that forces Jake into playing the role of Allegra's dead husband feelsl natural at the time it is presented, without going for the easy laughs that would have been shoehorned in more commercial efforts.
The Treatment is a neurotic comedy done the way it should be. We laugh at the situations the characters are in, not because the writing has them doing funny things, but because we clearly identify with them and their plight so sufficiently, we see the humor in them as if they were our own foibles. It's a rare thing in a romantic comedy where I really am happy when two characters eventually come together, but in this film, when Jake has his stuff together enough to get some success, I couldn't help but cheer him on. For a film which literally extols the virtues of humanism in fiction, it succeeds at being a fine example of one on its own terms.
©2007 Vince Leo