Mumford
directed by Lawrence Kasdan
(Touchstone, 1999)

Mumford's the kind of burgh everyone envisons small towns to be: little diner, a mom-and-pop hardware store, clean air, tree-lined streets. Of course, almost everyone is kind, from the owner of the local diner to the hardware store manager to the whiz-kid billionaire.

And no one's kinder than Mumford's new psychologist, Dr. ... Mumford. He listens. He prods his patients to make discoveries on their own. And he's obviously not in it for the money: Mumford boots out one client, an obnoxious lawyer, because the attorney's too much of a jerk to waste time listening to, even if that attorney's paying.

Mumford lives in a little apartment in the diner owner's home, befriends the local whiz-kid billionaire (well, the young entrepreneur pays him to be his friend at first, so no one will know the billionaire has a shrink), and comes home each night to cook dinner in front of America's Most Wanted. He even starts to fall for the daughter of the hardware store owner, who's come home suffering from a malady that makes her exhausted all the time. You know it can't be this easy. Why make the movie?

So, eventually, 45 minutes into Mumford, the psychologist reveals he's not who everyone thinks he is. Should it matter? Mumford (Loren Dean) has helped the shopaholic Althea Brockett (Mary McDonnell), high school student Nessa Watkins (Zooey Deschanel) who desperately wants to be a model, pharmacist Henry Follett (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who's let his steamy sex fantasies ruin his very real marriage. He's even reassured rich kid Skip Skipperton (Jason Lee) that he's perfectly normal, despite his money.

When everything starts to fall apart, triggered by Mumford's professional rivals and his snubbed client, the race is on: can the therapist come clean before America's Most Wanted blows his cover?

Mumford is a surprisingly charming movie -- not groundbreaking comedy, not a memorable romance, but a film that simply says everyone has foibles, and no one is completely transparent. It was sold as a movie about Mumford's professional "outing," but it's much more about the gently comedic town and the friendships a newcomer develops with its natives.

Screenwriter/director Lawrence Kasdan doesn't waste time setting up his plot; Mumford jumps right into the doctor's daily routine and expects the audience to follow along (and it's not that complicated to do). Dean makes a pleasant enough Mumford, sometimes a little too flat, but his scenes with Lee develop a nice rapport. Lee (a former professional skateboarder who gets to show some of his stuff as Skip), Alfre Woodard as diner owner Lily and Hope Davis as love interest Sophie Crisp head an ensemble cast that, together, creates a group of people you really wouldn't mind having as neighbors, gentle foibles and all.

[ by Jen Kopf ]



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