No less than Spider-Man 3, Oren Rudavsky's The Treatment is an urban fairy tale. It's an Upper-West-Side story, adapted from publishing powerhouse Daniel Menaker's well-reviewed 1998 novel, first published in the New Yorker, in which a smart-mouthed, if diffident, hero (Chris Eigeman) wins a wise, beautiful princess (the versatile, sometime X-Woman Famke Janssen) with a foundling child, no thanks to an irascible wizard — namely, the hero's shrink (Ian Holm, upgraded from hobbit).
"You make from the world a banal comedy in which you are the spectator," Dr. Ernesto Morales dismissively tells Jake Singer in his distinctively Anglo-Argentine-Yiddish phraseology. Given to outrageously graphic sexual metaphors and suspiciously over-involved in the details of his patient's love life, the ultra-Freudian analyst isn't the movie's only old-fashioned element; Janssen is a wondrously warm, totally unspoiled, fabulously wealthy widow magically named Allegra, and Jake is an idealistic, borderline nerdy English teacher at a posh private high school, who has mysteriously affordable rent payments.
No less than Rudavsky's 1997 documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, The Treatment affectionately portrays the customs of a circumscribed community with its own particular laws and geography. Other than a trip to Connecticut to consult another crusty old doctor, Jake's father (Harris Yulin), the action barely strays further than a few blocks from Central Park where, in the opening scene, Jake meets his ex-girlfriend, getting the news of her engagement just in time for the first of many sessions on Morales's procrustean couch. The tyrannical doctor is a richly comic character, his patient somewhat less so.
Short, sweet and hardly ever cloying, The Treatment is largely dependent for its success on the quality of its performances — most surprisingly, Eigeman's. An axiom of Whit Stillman's class-conscious indies, the actor has grown less smug and more sympathetic with age. Perhaps the turning point was his appearance ten years ago in Noah Baumbach's Mr. Jealousy — another psychoanalytic comedy that could easily dose The Treatment with the anxiety of influence (or narcissism of small differences), what with its neurotic, underachieving protag (also a high school teacher), New York local color and hilarious group-therapy sessions. Given its ongoing rumination on the nature of fatherhood, Rudavsky's literate romance might equally well have been titled The Transference.
There's a Philip K. Dick novel in which, ready for any emergency, the neurotic protagonist totes a portable mini-robot psychoanalyst in his briefcase. Dr. Morales has a similar, albeit negative, role here — popping out of Jake's superego at strategic moments to undermine his confidence with questionable advice and unfair characterizations (referring to Allegra as a "dowager"). Menaker's novel is a bit more paranoid; here, at least, the shrink does not turn out to be a closet anti-Semite. Indeed, John Zorn's score gives the proceedings a gently philo-Semitic tinge — not inappropriate to its shtetl romance.
The plot developments have Jake and Allegra, whose young son is a student in Jake's school, manipulating a wildly tele-graphed and over-determined happy ending — albeit unconsciously. Ru-davsky may be a long-term analy-sand, but, for all his movie's psychoanalytic underpinnings, it does pretend to be a bit unaware of the emotional wheeling and dealing of its narrative arc — the ubiquitous Dr. Morales notwithstanding. In ascribing character mo-tives, the analyst comes close to being the movie's narrator. As rude and unreliable as he is, The Treatment might have been far funnier if he were.
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