Film Scouts Reviews

"Analyze This"

by Karen Jaehne

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The mobster pulls out his revolver, points it at the doctor and says, "I paid for an hour, Doc, so that'll be another ten minutes." The shrink and the mafia don were bound to meet - and it wasn't going to be cute. Funny, maybe, but not cute. I'm just relieved that Billy Crystal beat Woody Allen to the punch.

Paul Vitti (Robert DeNiro) is not suffering from anything trivial like agoraphobia or dipsomania. He's got fear, grief, rage and guilt, and that's just against his mankind. Now, as he prepares to step into his father's shoes as the leader of all the crime families, he gets Torschlusspanik. (That's fear that you'll go through the door and it will slam shut behind you - also known as point of no return, but that doesn't sound as dangerously Freudian as Torschlusspanik.)

As everybody knows, shrinks are good, because they're just that much crazier than the rest of us. Through a process called transference, we project onto them our weird relationships with parents, siblings, and other loved ones. De Niro takes to therapy like King Kong to the Empire State Building. After running into Ben Sobol (Billy Crystal, and "running into" is literal), De Niro makes Sobol his shrink - at gunpoint. Sobol has no choice - or does he? Didn't Freud say there's no such thing as an accident?

Dr. Sobol is in a tricky position. The minimally educated mobster is disgusted by psychology's simplest complexes. Dr. Sobol is cautious about telling a violent criminal that he wants to sleep with his mom and kill his dad. Especially in a mob family, where a good Oedipal complex can work in a son's interest, when the time comes to be the head of all the mob families. From a Freudian perspective, it's not for nothing we call the Mafia the family.

As Vitti learns to trust Dr. Sobol, he has no compunction about calling for him at any time - even in the middle of Dr. Sobol's wedding to the lovely and extremely patient Lisa Kudrow, who doesn't have much to do except be a blonde trophy wife, to which even a shrink can aspire, I guess.

In this film, the shenanigans - and that's what you have to call the plot - that go on in the name of psychotherapy are funny enough to put half the New York psychiatric establishment out of business. The truest moments are when we get a peek at Dr. Sobol's fantasies about his patients: they're so boring and whiney, he wants to put them out of their misery. In Paul Vitti, Dr. Sobol finally has an interesting subject, and fortunately, he is protected by doctor/patient privilege. When, for example, the doc tells him to vent his feelings by hitting a pillow, he pulls out his pistol and shoots the pillow until the air is alive with feathers.

The doc, meanwhile, has his own problems with a father who is a famous TV psychoanalyst who writes self-help books instead of helping patients - a step up in the psychology racket. Sobol also has a son with a weight problem who enjoys doing naughty little boy things - things that could fester into fully antisocial behavior and things that remind us of how we once were, when our main goal in life was to bug authority figures. (Whaddya mean, ya weren't that way?!)

Besides the hilarious script, the film boasts a cast of characters with faces that recall the great gangster movies of the thirties. Who wouldn't love a character like Jelli, Vitti's bodyguard (Joseph Viterelli), who keep us smiling, because we anticipate the usual set of responses to a given situation - but these guys do something wackier. The comedy is sometimes corny, and then again, it appeals to insider jokes about psychoanalysis, but none of it gets lost, and probably merits a second and third viewing - just for the jokes you miss while laughing.

It's definately the funniest movie in Harold Ramis' career, and much of its humor is for grown-ups, or at least people beyond the age range of Ramis' usual target audience. He directs the actors to play the scenes straight, not for laughs, and the result is hysterical. Not in a clinical sense, although it may have the therapeutic effect of making us forget about how trivial our problems are - as compared to a mob boss with free-floating anxiety.

Trust "Analyze This" to help you relate to your shrink as just another guy bored by the same old Oedipal stories, day after day, patient after patient. Maybe it'll inspire you to do something to surprise him.

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