Lawrence Kasdan’s Mumford is a well-tuned vehicle with no destination. It is not funny enough to be a comedy, not serious enough to be a drama, and not deep enough to be much more than a slick two-hanky Hollywood hacker with a few warm and fuzzy characters. Mumford might well sell some soap – it does have a feel-good love story – but we’ve been through this wash before, and this time we’re not buying.
The premise is fine – a young con man with a hidden past finds a small town where he can hang out a shingle as town psychologist. Because he is very easy to talk to, people flock to Doc Mumford and divulge their most intimate secrets. Of course Doc has a lurkiing secret of his own. No one would argue with the value of the underlying theme – that America is basically lonely and alienated, and that everyone needs a nice shoulder to cry on.
But why Dr. Mumford’s? As our dear grandmother would have said: "Him? He’s a shlump." Mumford (Loren Dean) has no idea what he’s doing. He falls in love with his patients, he tells their secrets to other patients – this guy has DANGER stamped in the middle of his forehead. But no one is looking, because…well, he’s such a nice boy. Then Doc finally divulges his convoluted secret, and it’s a big yawn. He is bland, his problem is bland, the town is bland, and if it weren’t for the excellent cast of small town wackos we would be snoring on Doc’s couch inside of ten minutes.
He certainly falls in love with the right girl. Sofie Crisp (Hope Davis) has a face that is so expressive and a heart that is so big, it is hard to believe she’s acting. Her biggest problem is that she isn’t on screen enough. The agent of Sofie’s illness is easy to spot: her mother (Dana Ivey). Mrs. Crisp is grumpier than Walter Matthau and Oscar the Grouch put together. Another excellent performance is turned in by Jason Lee as Skip Skipperton, the town’s mega-wealthy hardware entrepreneur. Skip is the kind of non-judgmental billionaire we’d all like to have as a friend. Admittedly his top-secret project is a little weird, but that weirdness is actually welcome. Skip is like a dose of Anti-Bleach — adding a much-needed small stain to the town’s predictable basket of easy-to-clean neuroses.
Writer/director Kasdan loves sweeping character-driven statements. We have been fans of his other work, especially The Big Chill. His best films have a cast of very good ensemble actors. In the end the big picture is always slightly off-center, and you don’t end up where you thought you would. You’ve learned something.
Mumford has the form, but lacks the fury. A small town’s not-very dirty laundry goes into the wash and comes out clean, dry and neatly folded on the other end. There is nothing to learn, because nothing has changed. The Doc wasn’t so good, the townsfolk weren’t so bad, and love conquers all. Please place four more quarters in the dryer, ho hum.
A happy ending helps. We’re pleased to see Henry Follett (Pruitt Taylor Vince) finally enter his own fantasy, Mrs. Brockett feel happy, and wonderful Nessa (Zooey Deschanel) trade her cigarettes for true love. We leave the theater happy, but not moved. Maybe we’ll put on some funky old clothes and go rent The Big Chill.