BEYOND THERAPY (Robert Altman, 1987)

Among Robert Altman’s 1980s theatrical adaptations, and hilarious, Beyond Therapy has been widely maligned, at least in the States. Christopher Durang and Altman’s script comes from Durang’s play, though Altman’s extensive changes led Durang to all but disown the final result, giving reviewers cover for their venom—although some of them took the occasion to dump on Durang as well. Set in New York, the film was shot in Paris. Well, who wouldn’t rather be in Paris?
     The film opens with a shot of a psychotherapist’s couch and overlapping snippets of talk from invisible, crisscrossingly connected clients. Charlotte and Stuart (Glenda Jackson, Tom Conti) are both psychotherapists on the same floor of the same building who, like clockwork, skip out for a quickie with each other at the appointed time. We know from one of Stuart’s clients, Prudence, who is also his former lover, that poor Stuart, who boasts of his sexual prowess, prematurely ejaculates. We deduce from this that Charlotte also has sexual problems. She also, like Stuart, isn’t the world’s best psychotherapist; Charlotte falls asleep on one client and must tell another, “Oh, I thought you were somebody else this entire session.” Moreover, there is the case of Andrew, her neediest client, whom we discover is even more closely connected to Charlotte than we first imagine and whose core problem Charlotte is blind to.
     Blind daters Prudence and Bruce (Julie Hagerty, Jeff Goldblum), who is Charlotte’s client, enrage the jealousy of Bruce’s live-in gay lover, Bob (Christopher Guest), who is a member of a separate therapy group, once his mother, Zizi (Geneviève Page, ferociously funny—twenty years past being Belle de Jour’s Madam, giving the best performance), tattles on seeing Bruce and Prudence together in a French restaurant (where Andrew waits tables). A later showdown in the restaurant adds to Altman’s résumé a deliriously funny use of slow motion as antidote to its customary sentimental use.
     Three different renditions of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”—but, alas, not Ella’s—adorn the soundtrack, underscoring this unifying theme: humanity’s constant pursuit of one kind of love or another.


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