For a city which majors in the pursuit of success, beauty and personal fulfilment, the most powerful smell Los Angeles leaves in the nostrils is the stench of failure. The threat of it sits heavier than the famous smog. And it permeates every frame of Shrink, the director Jonas Pate's low-key, small-scale drama about Henry Carter, a once hugely successful psychiatrist who has given up trying to make any difference to the lives of his mostly pampered yet addiction-addled patients, and who now spends seemingly all his waking hours swathed in dope smoke.
The movies have always looked kindly on psychoanalysts — from Now Voyager to Ordinary People to the whole of Woody Allen's "middle" phase. It's hardly surprising — look up Hollywood in Who's Who and you'll see therapy is its favoured pastime. There is an unswerving West Coast belief in the healing powers of this secular priesthood which must be the envy of the Catholic Church. Anybody who resists is simply providing further proof of just how big a screw-up he or she really is. Know-it-all Barbra Streisand tamed Nick Nolte this way in The Prince of Tides. Robin Williams brought Matt Damon to heel in Good Will Hunting. But there's a feeling in Shrink that perhaps we have come to the end of this particular road. Physician heal thyself, it seems to be saying, and then tell your clients to stop being so deluded and self-aggrandising.
Henry lives with one ironic eyebrow always cocked. His self-disgust is barely concealed behind a passive, smirky knowingness. In other words, this is a job for Kevin Spacey, who has to deliver only a slight variation on his American Beauty persona to make Henry utterly believable. Spacey has been missing from the big screen for some years now, thanks to his directorship of the Old Vic, but also, one suspects, because in this increasingly 3-D world, his kind of roles are increasingly thin on the ground. His performance in this otherwise lacklustre trawl through Californian self-absorption makes it worth seeing. You sense that, despite the most overt cause of his disillusionment (the suicide of his wife), Henry is anyway sceptical about this whole psychoanalysis thing he has found himself in and is more concerned with working out why we're here in the first place. Spacey remains one of our finest screen actors.
Self-disgusted of LA: Kevin Spacey in "Shrink"