Tell Me Your Deep Dark Secret, and I Will Tell You Mine
DIRECTED BY LAWRENCE KASDEN/1999
STREET DATE: July 16, 2019/KINO-LORBER
Dr. Mumford, has only lived in the coincidentally named town of Mumford for 4 1/2 months, but he’s already built a successful practice as a psychologist. Everyone comes to see Mumford. His approach is not always orthodox, but he seems to intuitively know what everyone needs. The overstuffed, slightly battered couch in his office becomes the safe haven for sharing deep longings and shames, but the doctor has his own secrets and is surprisingly careless about keeping them.
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan loves an ensemble cast, as evident in movies like The Big Chill, Silverado, and Grand Canyon. In the case of Grand Canyon, the film collapsed under the weight of a larger-than-life cast hitched to a larger-than-life story. Mumford takes the opposite tack. You will recognize everyone in this movie: I mean, everyone. But many of the cast members were at the beginning of their careers, or were accomplished character actors, or were indie film staples. Only a few late-90s “stars” are on display here, and even they are serving a relatively small story told with a light touch.
Mumford himself is played by Loren Dean, the sort of blandly handsome actor who sends you to IMDB to figure out where you’ve seen him. He’s done a wide variety of film and TV work, but I was most happily reminded that he is “Joe”, the faithless boyfriend who inspires 65 songs in Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything”. Dean’s ordinariness probably hindered his career, but it’s perfect in this role. Mumford is a quiet, wry, enigmatic figure who could blend in anywhere He carries himself with a Zen-like calm, but occasionally says or does things that seem well outside normal therapeutic standards – violating confidentiality, conspicuously “firing” an obnoxious client, taking a patient with chronic fatigue on increasingly long walks.
There’s a mood to Mumford that is hard to describe, a sweetness punctuated by pain bursting through the surface of people’s lives. The town has the quirky charm of Stars Hollow or Cecily, there are few malevolent figures, but everyone is struggling for acceptance and connection. A well-to-do housewife (Mary McDonnell) shops compulsively to distract from her loveless marriage. A teenage girl with an eating disorder (Zooey Deschanel) pours over piles of fashion magazines, railing against her body. A young tech billionaire (Jason Lee) is so lonely he’s working to build a sex robot.
Mumford is a catalyst for change for each of his patients, though he rarely offers advice and tends to answer questions with questions. He’s learned that listening carefully unlocks the process of helping people find their own answers, that healing begins when people can share the worst they have inside of them without being shamed or rejected. But what about the worst that Mumford has to offer? Can the town accept him when they know what’s in his past?
Mumford’s past is one of the two weak links in this movie. Kasdan switches tone so radically to tell the story of Mumford’s personally history that it feels disconnected, absurd, and unbelievable. And this past is the one thing that Loren Dean is not well suited to play in this movie.
The other problem with Mumford is how cavalierly it treats ethical violations by a therapist. Having been in therapy myself, I thought those violations mattered a lot more than Kasdan seems to. Everyone in town is so grateful for the help they’ve received from Mumford that he never has to grapple with his moral failure. Perhaps they’re right that the trade off is worth it. Mumford is a deeply wounded healer, but he is still a healer. And while there’s no excusing the deception he perpetrates, there’s also no denying that his personal history is the source of his empathy and regard for his patients.
The Northern California scenery in Mumford is beautiful, and the soundtrack, featuring the likes of Lyle Lovett, Nick Lowe, and Wilco, is 90s gold. When I say that you’ll recognize everyone in this movie, I mean it. The excellent cast includes, in addition to those already mentioned, Hope Davis, Alfre Woodard, Martin Short, David Paymer, Jane Adams, Ted Danson, Jason Ritter, and a very young Elisabeth Moss.
Kino-Lorber’s new Blu-ray release includes an interview with Kasdan, a short making-of featurette, and a handful of rom-com trailers. The special features are grainy, but the film itself looks and sounds fine.