Touchstone Pictures // 1999 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 9th, 2000
"What kind of doctor are you?"
"So you're not a real doctor."
"That's right. I'm the fake kind."
In the Rockwellian small town of Mumford a new man has come to town...named Mumford. Doc Mumford that is; and he's setting up shop as a psychologist. His charm and simple way of simply listening to people soon has him with more patients than both the town's other headshrinkers put together. This charming story is the latest from one of my favorite directors, Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Silverado, Grand Canyon) and has all the wit, great dialogue, and interesting characters I've come to expect when he helms a film. Kasdan directed, wrote, and produced this little gem that won critical acclaim but few dollars at the box office, and fortunately we have another chance to see it thanks to this recent DVD release from Disney.
First things first: I loved this movie. The tale is relatively simple, but underlies a theme of new beginnings; for people as individuals and together. Mumford needed a change of life, and has hung up his shingle in a new town, using his innate gift of listening to draw people out to talk about themselves. Often we are put inside the therapy sessions, and eavesdrop on the fantasies of the townsfolk. From the sexual fantasies of the local druggist to a beautiful woman suffering from some form of chronic fatigue, Mumford hears them all.
Like most Kasdan pictures, this is a large ensemble of people. Martin Short (Three Amigos, Father of the Bride, Saturday Night Live fame, and no relation) plays a district attorney so slimy and abrasive that Mumford kicks him out of his office rather than listen to him whine. Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact, Grand Canyon, Love and Basketball) is Lily, the coffee shop owner who rents Mumford his room above hers, and doesn't know that she has love awaiting. Mary McDonnell (Independence Day, Grand Canyon, Dances With Wolves) plays Althea Brockett, a shopaholic whose kids worry about her, and others, and whose rich husband, played by Ted Danson, couldn't care less about. Jason Lee (Dogma, Enemy of the State, Chasing Amy) plays Skip Skipperton, a skateboarding billionaire who employs most of the town, and really needs a friend. All these townspeople and more get help from Doc Mumford with his easy way of getting people to solve their own problems while never resorting to stereotypical psychobabble.
Loren Dean (Billy Bathgate, Gattaca, Enemy of the State) plays Mumford with a quiet flair and some very surprising turns. You see, Mumford has a secret...he's not a psychologist at all. He needed a new beginning and this was how he did it. Because he really isn't a shrink, he has some unusual methods and has two other problems: the other two shrinks in town are looking too closely into his background, and he's fallen in love with one of his patients. Hope Davis (Arlington Road, The Myth of Fingerprints, Flatliners) gives warmth and honesty to the role of Sophie Crisp (the girl who is so tired she can barely stay awake for her sessions) that would make just about anyone fall for her. So now Mumford is really in a bind: reveal he isn't really a doctor and risk everything, or lose the love of his life.
Much like The Big Chill, this film uses the intelligent dialogue and great characters to carry the film. In fact, I'd say if you like that '80s classic, you'll like this one. Great performances all around, smartly directed and written, bring a nuanced, smoothly paced tale that goes by all too quickly for the viewer. Sure some of the people have some unusual problems, but I found I wanted to move to Mumford myself. For a new beginning if you will. Mumford is also quite funny, in an understated way which yields many chuckles throughout the film.
Disney has really started to improve its act in recent months; delivering some nice special editions and embracing anamorphic transfers on most of their films, even lesser known ones like this (Let's not talk about their animated classics right now). This is a very good anamorphic transfer from the folks at Disney; and we knew they had it in them. Contrast and detail is great, though a bit soft in a few scenes, which you'd have to be looking for to notice. Colors are bright and only rarely show a hint of bleeding. Black levels, shadow detail, and fleshtones are dead-on accurate. The source print was very clean and free of nicks or scratches, or even grain. There are no problems with edge enhancement or artifacting. There are a few small flaws, but overall a very clean, bright, film-like look. I'm pleased with the results.
The soundtrack is likewise excellent. This type of film doesn't demand much use of your subwoofer, or even surrounds, but ambient noises and subtle use of the discrete surround channels are present. The front soundstage, however, is wide and spacious, with the lighthearted score and dialogue spread across the three front channels. Music and dialogue are likewise free of distortion and offer a clear, lifelike sound. Imaging is excellent from channels and utilizes the spaces between them as well. Excellent work, especially for a film that doesn't demand much from a soundtrack.
Well, there is one thing Disney still does I'm not happy with. Forced trailers at the beginning of the movie. I am always forced to use my chapter skip button to get past them to get to the main menu. This disc has "preview trailers" of Outside Providence and Happy, Texas that you can reach from the bonus features menu, but also have to either watch or skip through at the beginning. These trailers become more of an annoyance than an extra when they come up first thing as you start the disc.
Disney is still light on the extras when it comes to their non-special editions, and this one is no special edition. Besides the two trailers, we get the theatrical trailer for Mumford and a short featurette. Certainly I'm still waiting for a Lawrence Kasdan commentary track.
I'll mention here that Kasdan has also been the writer of some of the best loved films of all time, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. That is really neither here nor there, but may help you understand why I'm such a fan of his. This film doesn't have the typical "hooks" to get you to watch, but you'll feel like you've met people you want to know and even feel better about yourself and humanity in general after you've watched this. That feeling makes this film well worth a look by itself.
All involved with Mumford have my respect, and I'm only sorry more people didn't see this film at the box office. Hopefully this review will expose this gem to more people now on DVD. Disney has come a long way and I am happy to give them credit where it is due as well. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R