Quick — which is more interesting, therapy or sex? In The Treatment, a feather-light comedy about losing emotional baggage and finding love in upper Manhattan, it’s the baggage that speaks, in an uproarious subplot about a mad Freudian analyst and his resentful patient. The main event, a romance between the patient (Chris Eigeman) and an older, widowed socialite (Famke Janssen), cruises along pleasantly enough in a slightly fusty, late-1980s sort of way. But for a movie that argues the primacy of happenstance over fate, the plot of The Treatment comes front-loaded with contrivance, and going in you’ll need a leap of faith to buy the super-WASPy Eigeman as a young Jewish neurotic with intimacy issues. Wisely, Eigeman — who’s thickened a little in the face and waist since his salad days as Whit Stillman’s alter ego in Metropolitan and Barcelona — avoids trying to play Jewish, and comes off persuasively understated as Jake Singer, a kind, idealistic teacher of literature at a snobby prep school who inspires his students but can’t seem to jump-start his own life.
Rejected by his trophy blond girlfriend (Stephanie March), Jake finds himself unable to move on until he meets Allegra Marshall (a nicely matter-of-fact Janssen), a svelte sophisticate whose son attends his school. Despite her grief over the death of her husband, who’s been conveniently dispatched by coronary thrombosis, Allegra points her libido in Jake’s direction with fetching candor. Jake fancies himself ready and willing, but like most Upper West Side anxiety addicts, he’s seeing someone else — Dr. Ernesto Morales (Ian Holm), a crazed Argentine psychoanalyst who, for a bargain $150 an hour (and that’s the sliding scale), keeps his chronically indecisive patient stalled in contemplation of his mother, whose death hovers over his life like a wrong diagnosis.
Oren Rudavsky, who directed and co-wrote (with Daniel Saul Housman) The Treatment, has made perceptive documentaries about American Hasidim (A Life Apart) and about an Orthodox Jewish family’s search for its roots (Hiding and Seeking). So he knows from insular subcultures, which may be why The Treatment, which is based on a novel by former New Yorker editor Daniel Menaker, is richest when it zooms in on the testy co-dependence between analyst and analysand. It’s high time for a comedy about the decline and fall of traditional psychoanalysis, a hermetically sealed, outrageously high-priced enterprise that, in its most egregious forms, strands clients in years of fruitless theorizing about their monster moms and dads instead of encouraging them to move forward with their lives.
Dr. Morales may be, as Jake calls him, “the last Freudian,” but his method is anything but orthodox. An actor known (hobbits notwithstanding) for strategic reticence, Holm takes to over-the-top like a duck to water. Morales hurls books at Jake while professing his undying love for him, commends a moment of insight by yelling, “At last the penis has entered the vagina!,” invokes Christ whenever possible (though for a Catholic, he’s some Jew), and pops out of a closet to embarrass Jake’s excursions into sexual adventure. He’s a dying breed, but he won’t go quietly, and compared to the zany tumult of his struggle for sovereignty over his young patient, Jake’s on-and-off romance with Allegra — all too schematically complicated by his crotchety father (Harris Yulin), her adopted children and a brief but welcome visit from Blair Brown as a suspicious social worker — is a wan creature indeed. That would satisfy the last Freudian no end, but as a defiantly unreconstructed analysand friend of mine would say, when it comes to fully genitalized relationships — or what any normal person would call love — The Treatment limps along, and then slides off a cliff.
THE TREATMENT | Directed by OREN RUDAVSKY | Written by DANIEL SAUL HOUSMAN and RUDAVSKY, based on the novel by DANIEL MENAKER | Produced by RUDAVSKY and JONATHAN SHOEMAKER | Released by New Yorker Films | Sunset 5 and One Colorado