MUMFORD (1999) ***1/2
Starring: Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Jason Lee, Alfre Woodard, Martin Short, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mary McDonnell, Zooey Deschanel, David Paymer, Jane Adams, and Ted Danson Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. 96 minutes Rated R (for sex-related images featuring nudity, drug content, and some language)
By Blake French:
"Mumford" is a cuddly little comedy production with a happy, uplifting atmosphere like the ones found in "Pleasantville" and "The Truman Show." Mumford is the name of a small fantasy town, filed with smiling people greeting each other on a daily basis, which is held in upheaval when a small time psychiatrist's true entity is revealed to his various patients.
I am getting ahead on myself, here. Before I can explain what happens after the characters discover the secrets about Mumford, the name of psychiatrist also, I must first give you some background information on the characters. The mismatched characters are eccentric and entertaining. They are developed though sessions with Mumford. To make things even more original for the movie is the lack of plot structure here. The conflicts, problems and solutions all exist in each individual character, not necessarily a situation they are placed into.
With Mumford included, here are the characters: Sofie Crisp, (Hope Davis), who is nearly bedridden after a severe and almost permanent loss of energy. Henry Follett (Pruitt Taylor Vince) whose mind is overflowing with wild and erotic sex fantasies, but he isn't featured in any of them. Skip Skipperton, (Jason Lee) a young, skateboarding corporate billionaire that is so lonely and without friends that he has spend the last several years designing robots to fit individual's sexual pleasures. Nessa Watkins, (Zooey Deschanel) who has social, smoking, relationship, and obsession issues. Lionel Dillard, (Martin Short) a lawyer who's disturbing images Mumford refuses to listen to. Jeremy Brockett (Ted Danson), who is great to himself but treats his family members like dirt. Dr. Ernest Delbanco (David Paymer) and Dr. Phyllis Sheeler (Jane Adams), the only other two mental health doctors in Mumford who question Mumford's creditability. And finally, there is the Mumford character himself, played by Loren Dean, who has such a compelling flashback sequence developing his entire life in five minutes effectively, we learn that this man also had some problems, he just was willing to turn his life around. This character alone makes the film worth while to see, for his mysterious past life is such a revealing subject that it is hard not to become intrigued.
There is much to like about "Mumford." There are the enormously entertaining characters, who are not puppets of the plot, but contain their own personal emotions and motives. A charming, imaginative atmosphere. The direction by Lawrence Kasdan is focused and organized; he seems to know exactly what he wants, and achieves it. The personal territory the film's story covers, a psychiatrist mind, as well as the thoughts of many disturbed individuals, is quite compelling. Also, I think there is an important message here, signifying the need of people to communicate to one another and how important it is to listen to each other--values everyone should have.
The conclusion to "Mumford" contains no big, extravagant climax. Nor does it completely bring the film's message to a direct close. It is a happy, petty ending in which almost everyone goes home happy, but still lets the imagination wonder. This ending only provides the fact that this is a character and mood movie, not a plot based movie. It ends how it needs to end, assuring this film will stick with the viewer for sometime to come.
Brought to you by Touchstone Pictures.
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