Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Beyond Therapy

Beyond Therapy


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: C+



Director Robert Altman tries to invert the Screwball Comedy with his 1987 film Beyond Therapy, but he does not quite make it.  Jeff Goldblum is Bruce, who may or may not be straight, but is interested in the perpetually neurotic Prudence (Julie Haggerty.  Bruce has an explicitly gay roommate in Bob (Christopher Guest, before he played this persona out) and Bruce has said he is bi-sexual.  That set up immediately eliminates the male/female dichotomy that is sustained in such comedies, even though they cross each other constantly in films such as Howard Hawks’ 1938 classic Bringing Up Baby.


Glenda Jackson is here as a neurotic mother and Tom Conti is a screwy foreign lover who may also be phonier than a three dollar bill.  Add the oddball and often gay characters, and this film feels like it is part of the current gay pop culture cycle, except something more intelligent than just exploitive and ignoring the AIDS epidemic.  It is a surprise that this film ignores AIDS for all involved, even with Christopher Durang and Altman adapting the screenplay from Durang’s play.


Thanks to the approach to making the film, master filmmaker Altman never lets this feel like a filmed play.  However, the dialogue cannot escape the feel of stage convention and the delivery by the actors cannot break this either.  To the credit of all, it never feels like these people are talking at each other, but it did not feel like enough was being said.  If the point was to show everyone being neurotic and not able to grasp the situation, this went a bit overboard.


Haggerty makes the least sense, sticking with the possibility of any happiness while everyone male around her is having an identity crisis.  The film has been criticized for her character being limited and even sexist, but the gender politics are all over the place here, and the males do not come across any better.  Altman wants to show the banality of “love” as object and a male/female relationship as impossible to negotiate.  His solution and idea here in the end is a joke worthy of Billy Wilder’s Some like It Hot (1959), but not as effective.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is not bad, but still has depth and color limits.  This was the sixth of six collaborations in a row for Altman and cinematographer Pierre Mignot, wrapping up a 1980s feature film cycle as a sort of rebuilding after the odd, commercial flop Popeye (1980), which has become a cult item.  Mignot would co-shoot Pret-A-Porter (Ready To Wear) in 1994 with Jean Lepine, four films later, and has not worked with him since.  This is what we could consider average Altman visual vocabulary.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono shows its age, but especially when Linda Rondstat’s version of “Someone To Watch Over Me” from her then recent What’s New album.  The 1983 hit was recently issued in the new DVD-Audio format, with higher definition sound than CD and in a multi-channel arrangement yet.  That ages this film all the more.  The song is repeated in instrumentals throughout in a comic fashion, almost feeling like a send-up of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 hit What’s Up Doc?, though we get a Lena Horne rendition that breaks form that half-way through the film, then Yves Montand at the end credits.  This does not demonstrate evolution among the characters, but makes sense as there is strong reasons throughout to think Altman was going after the Bogdanovich hit to some extent.  Bogdanovich fared better recently by doing this and more effectively so in music and title graphics with the underrated The Cat’s Meow (2002, reviewed elsewhere on this site).  The only extras are the original theatrical teaser and trailer.


The film lands up being ahead of its time in a way that foresees shallow trends we are currently suffering, so if it is a warning of the failure of psychology to help people and a society that in some ways became sicker, Durang and Altman were right.  That they were not explicit enough might be reason to want to blame them.  In the end, it is not the best Altman, but cannot simply be written off.  Beyond Therapy could refer to these particular people who are too beyond such scientific means to be helped, so they may be doomed to live in a false sense of happiness, but Altman’s concerns about genre override any other intents, making for an oddly disappointing film.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com