|DVD Romantic Drama|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 20 October 1998|
Marshall Brickman started in movies as a co-writer with Woody Allen, including Allen's two best movies, "Annie Hall" (1977) and "Manhattan" (1979). He turned director with "Simon" in 1980, and sporadically has turned out a few quirky little movies from time to time, the last being the misfired "Intersection" in 1994. "Lovesick" is his most Woody-esque movie by far; it's set in Manhattan, it deals with psychiatry and romance, and he even tries for the broken dialog rhythms that are so much a part of Allen's style. It's very easy to imagine Woody Allen in the leading role of psychiatrist Saul Benjamin, played here by Dudley Moore. (And where has he gone?)
The obvious intent was to make a tender, funny comedy about how love can take us apart emotionally and mentally -- and how it can put us back together again. And "Lovesick" does have a lot of good scenes, particularly in the opening third. At the time this was made, Moore was starring in a series of romantic comedies, but though the films were uneven, he himself gave fine, funny performances that smoothly mixed slapstick, straight-faced drollery and mild wisecracks. Saul Benjamin's life is in a smooth, comfortable groove -- or that's how he perceives it. He arrives in his office at the same time every morning, sprucing things up a bit and getting ready for his patients. He's been seeing mostly the same set for quite a while, making only a little progress, but secure in his belief that he's helping them. He's married, but he and his wife are not especially close, though they both view their comfortable life as a haven.
Actually, Saul is in a rut, which becomes blindingly clear when Chloe (Elizabeth McGovern) turns up in his office. She was a patient of Saul's late friend and colleague Otto (Wallace Shawn), who in a moment of candor, confessed to Saul he'd fallen in love with her. No sooner does Saul begin treating Chloe than he, too, begins having little fantasies about romancing her. He becomes so obsessed with Chloe that he begins following her about Manhattan.
It's when she discovers this that the film goes off the rails, because in defiance of wise psychiatric rules, they begin dating. Brickman tries to explain away this stupefying breach of ethics by more or less claiming love makes its own rules, and by showing that Saul becomes a better psychiatrist for this.
But though the movie does retain some charm, this just does not wash. It becomes impossible to see Chloe as anything other than spoiled and selfish, and Saul's actions as anything other than grotesque psychiatric malpractice. Yeah, they fall in love and, at fadeout, seem destined to live happily ever after, but the movie leaves a sour taste.
The supporting cast helps; John Huston plays Saul's mentor, who'd subjected him to analysis (all psychiatrists have to have their heads shrunk), and Alan King and Selma Diamond are amusing as fellow psychiatrists who question Saul's relationship with Chloe. Ron Silver is quite funny as a self-centered, egotistical actor clearly modeled on Al Pacino, and it's fun to spot David Straitharn and Christine Baranski in early roles.
The standout among the supporting players, however, is Alec Guinness as none other than the ghost of Sigmund Freud himself. He first appears next to a photo of the real Freud, so we'll know who the heck he is -- and in an odd, interesting touch, Saul isn't the slightest bit surprised to see old Siggy puffing on a cigar in his office. Freud turns up several more times, once in a scene inspired by "Elvira Madigan," another time reading Variety, and so forth. These appearances by the father of all psychiatrists don't really add a thing to the movie -- his advice has no affect on Saul's behavior -- but Guinness is very droll in the part, and the movie always brightens up a bit whenever he appears.
But even if you don't think it unethical for a psychiatrist to romance a patient, "Lovesick" is pretty mild stuff. Moore is fine, particularly in the mild slapstick scenes, since he knows how to underplay bits like burning his finger on a coffee pot. And McGovern is very attractive, as always. But Brickman's script is meandering and unconvincing, and his Woody-like direction is slow and uninvolving.
Warners hasn't helped matters by offering "Lovesick" on video only in the same panned-and-scanned transfer for each format. The print is rather muddy, and cinematographer Gerry Fisher's compositions are rendered clumsy by not being letterboxed.
If you're a big Dudley Moore fan, the DVD is a reasonable purchase; otherwise, it's the kind of thing to rent on a lazy winter evening.