After several acclaimed documentaries including the excellent A LIFE APART: HASIDISM IN AMERICA and HIDING AND SEEKING: FAITH AND TOLERANCE AFTER THE HOLOCAUST, director Oren Rudavsky tries his hand at a fiction feature with this truncated but amiable adaptation of Daniel Menaker's 1998 novel.
Abandoned by his fatally ill mother as a child, estranged from his disapproving father as an adult, and recently dumped by his longtime girlfriend, Jake Singer (Chris Eigeman), an English teacher at Manhattan's elite Coventry School, now finds cold comfort on the couch of Dr. Ernesto Morales (Ian Holm), a dyspeptic, highly combative Catholic psychoanalyst from Argentina who considers himself to be "the last Freudian on earth." Jake considers him to be little more than an expensive sadist, and their $125-an-hour sessions have the tenor of tense standoffs between a highly critical parent and a son desperate for any expression of love — in other words, a replay of the dynamic between Jake and his father, Dr. Arnold Singer (Harris Yulin), a cardiologist who has never been shy about expressing his dismay over the life choices his son has made. Jake's unresolved conflict with his dad affects most of his other adult relationships, from Coventry's smarmy headmaster Leighton Proctor (Roger Rees) to Allegra Marshall (Famke Janssen), a very wealthy young widow whom Jake meets at the Coventry fund-raiser she hosts at her lavish apartment. Though still reeling from her husband's recent death and the prospect of raising their two adopted children on her own, Allegra is clearly interested in Jake, whose instinct is to run screaming from any genuine involvement in life. Challenged by Dr. Morales, Jake forges ahead, but his newfound bliss with Allegra is threatened by a trio of authority figures: his father, who reenters his son's life after suffering a life-threatening allergic reaction during a routine angiogram; a state social worker (Blair Brown), who may not approve the as-yet-to-be-finalized adoption of Allegra's youngest, Emily, now that Allegra is a single mother; and Dr. Morales himself, who's hectoring voice has assumed bodily form and now dogs Jake during his hours off the couch.
Set in a world where the question "Are you seeing anybody?" could easily refer to either a romantic interest or a therapist, Rudavsky's film is reminiscent of one of Woody Allen's Manhattan comedies, but without the sour aftertaste. By expunging most of the novel's second half, which tells the story of Emily's birth mother, who had been a victim of tragic circumstance, and her new husband's underhanded attempts to get Emily back from Allegra, Rudavsky loses a lot of what the book is really about: chance and the artist's (and therapist's) attempt to impose order on random occurrence through storytelling. But even without the book's existential musings, the film is a pleasant breeze that refreshes, mostly because it's a rare, thoughtful comedy clearly intended for grown-ups. leave a comment --Ken Fox