Loren Dean is Mumford, the leading psychiatrist in the small town that
shares his name. To paraphrase the press notes, while Mumford the town
has its share of secrets, Mumford the shrink has the biggest of all.
This secret, treated in the film as a surprise but divulged by the film's
advertising campaign, is simple: Mumford is no licensed psychotherapist.
So who is Mumford, exactly? While writer-director Lawrence Kasdan comes
up with a strangely convoluted backstory, it boils down to one simple
thing: he's a nice guy. And what is _Mumford_, exactly? Simply a nice
film. But that's not as much of a compliment as it sounds.
This light ensemble comedy is pleasant to watch, and a lot of that ease
can be traced to the film's appealing ensemble cast, namely its standout
players. Hope Davis shines as Sofie Crisp, the chronically-fatigued
patient for whom Mumford develops an unprofessional attraction. Jason
Lee is, to borrow his character's catchphrase, "far out" as another of
Mumford's patients, Skip Skipperton, a young billionaire with a knack for
skateboarding (a characteristic that gives Lee the opportunity to flaunt
the skills that won him a number of international titles in his
pre-acting career). Alfre Woodard radiates an inviting warmth as diner
owner Lily, who is also Mumford's landlord.
I make no mention of Dean, and that is not an accidental oversight.
There is nothing particularly wrong with this performance, and his gentle
demeanor goes a long way in making the audience believe that people would
want to open up to him. It's just that as a screen presence, Dean is
completely faceless, which makes him a perfect match for his character,
which similarly has neither quirks nor a distinct identity. And that's
the film's central flaw; the only thing that is certain about Mumford is,
as mentioned before, that he's a nice guy. While that indeed makes for a
likable protagonist, that doesn't make for a terribly interesting one.
The same can be said of the film's trite point. There are a couple of
other (and bonafide) shrinks in town, Dr. Ernest Delbanco (David Paymer)
and Dr. Phyllis Sheeler (Jane Adams), but more people turn to Mumford.
Not only is he easier to talk to, here's the kicker--unlike those two, he
actually _helps_ people. Yes, the message of this film is the painfully
obvious: Mumford may not have a license, but his therapy works, and
that's what matters.
The banality of _Mumford_ wouldn't have mattered all that much if the
film had enough laughs, but those are in short supply. Most come from a
running gag involving the television show _Unsolved_Mysteries_, and the
film's most comically promising character, a slimy lawyer played by
Martin Short, is barely a presence in the film. So what's left are one
half of an interesting romance (the beguiling Sofie deserves someone with
a bit more zest than Mumford) and a handful of smiles. Nice, yes. But
nothing all that especially memorable.