The Reeler


May 4, 2007

The Treatment

Big Apple yarn doesn't cop out with rom-com anti-intellectualism

Contemporary romantic comedies often cop out and resign to being anti-intellectual, but The Treatment is a rare exception. Directed by Oren Rudavsky from Daniel Menaker’s popular novel, this amusing story of psychological frustration among struggling single folk in Manhattan echoes early Woody Allen without the nebbish annoyances.

Schoolteacher Jake (Chris Eigeman), reeling from a recent break-up, is sprawled out on a psychiatrist’s couch. But this isn’t your ordinary shrink; Dr. Ernesto Morales (Ian Holm, in fine form) constantly berates his patient, detecting bullshit before it tumbles out of Jake’s rambling mouth. Their sessions reach a breakthrough when Jake realizes that his inclination towards lying to himself generally prevents him from overcoming changes in his life. “A lie is a failure to understand ourselves,” Morales explains, and Jake’s eyes pop out of his head. It’s around this time that he begins courting the mother of a child at his school, and an uneven romance develops.

Jake is a plucky creation, the sort of character who stumbles from one life experience to the next, looking flabbergasted the whole way through. Falling for the seductive widow Allegra (Famke Janssen), he begins to reevaluate his life trajectory, and marriage prospects loom large in his ambitions. While the story occasionally lags and never goes anywhere other than its predictable genre conceits, the characters carry enough individualistic liveliness to sustain the final product. Needless to say, anyone unable to find common ground with these fancy-schmancy New Yorkers, with their esoteric neurosis and wordy introspective rants, will probably wind up despising them for their unflagging self-interest.

Fortunately, The Treatment is skillfully directed so that Jake’s attraction to Allegra never loses its place as the main focus of the story (a subplot involving Jake’s rebellious student falls flat). Small details keep the narrative afloat, particular the sensationally uplifting violin score by the immensely talented John Zorn. Jake’s conflicting emotions about his unappreciative doctor dad (Harris Yulin) continually send him careening into an abyss of self-denial, withstanding reconciliation solely because he refuses to dissect his problems.

Filled with gasping declarations of idiosyncratic frustrations and denials, The Treatment pulls no punches about being a Freudian construction (it’s dedicated to “the last great Freudian”). More than anything else, Jake’s saga is a New York story that follows in a classic tradition. Rudavsky creates a Big Apple yarn that carries all the worldly wonder generally associated with the place -- with the exception of downtown grittiness. That would require a sequel.

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