THE STORY – Bob and Susan see marriage counselor, Judy Small, to improve their relationship. However, Judy Small’s dark impulses will bring Bob and Susan’s marriage to the breaking point.
THE CAST – Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry & Michaela Watkins
THE TEAM – William Teitler (Director) & Nancy Doyne (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
By Bianca Garner
Alicia Silverstone is perhaps one of the most underappreciated comedic actresses working today. Best known for her role in the 1995 teen comedy, “Clueless,” but she has also worked extensively since, appearing on the big and small screen. Silverstone last appeared in the psychological horror film, “The Lodge,” proving that she’s also more than capable of playing a dramatic role. She returns to her comedic roots with William Teitler’s “Bad Therapy,” but Silverstone, along with her co-stars Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins, seems hindered by the material and their performances feel a little lackluster. “Bad Therapy” generates very little laughs, but the issue doesn’t lie with its performers, rather its screenplay by Nancy Doyne, which is adapted from her own novel.
The film opens with a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright: “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles”. This quote feels slightly out of place here, but the aerial shots of the L.A. landscape are impressive enough to distract you from the unnecessary use of Wright’s words. We’re introduced to married couple Bob and Susan Howard (Corddry & Silverstone) who seem happy enough on the surface, but Susan confides in her friend Roxy (Aisha Tyler) and tells her that there are cracks in their marriage. Roxy recommends a marriage counselor, Judy Small (Michaela Watkins), who recently relocated close to their home in Los Angeles.
At first, Judy and her techniques come across as competent, intelligent and trustworthy, with a track record of other couples that she’s treated successfully without incident. However, there’s something about Bob and Susan’s particular emotional dynamic that acts as a trigger for Judy’s dark impulses. She suggests that she should see them separately which allows her to put them at odds with one another and brings their marriage to the breaking point. Can their marriage survive? And will Judy’s dark past finally catch up with her?
In terms of the main three key players, all of them seem a little lost and slightly confused. Watkins feels restricted by the material and her character feels underdeveloped. She’s a very talented comedic actress, demonstrated by her work on “Saturday Night Live” and in films such as “In a World,” “They Came Together” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon”. However, even Watkins’ talent can’t make the character of Judy Small work; she doesn’t come across as believable, and instead, a caricature of an unhinged, sexual deviant working in the medical profession. Silverstone seems restricted too, with her character being reduced to a sulky, immature lush, and Corddry’s character also feels rather stereotypical as an overgrown man child.
“Bad Therapy” feels like a missed opportunity to deconstruct marriage in our day and age, as well as examining the challenges and pressures that marriage counselors have to endure. Certain subplots and other minor characters feel underused or completely unnecessary; a subplot involving Bob arranging to set up a business with a colleague (Haley Joel Osment) ends rather abruptly and could have been completely excluded. This isn’t to say that the supporting cast doesn’t deliver decent performances. The likes of Osment, Tyler, Sarah Shahi, David Paymer, and Dichen Lachman are all entertaining to watch. It’s just a shame they aren’t given more to do. Praise must be had for Anna Pniowsky who plays Louise, Bob and Susan’s teenage daughter, and manages to steal all the scenes she appears in.
This is Teitler’s first film as director and unfortunately, it shows. Teitler isn’t a newbie to the Hollywood scene, he has been a producer for over three decades and has even worked alongside Doyne on the film “What Maisie Knew”. However, there’s something missing with “Bad Therapy” which is hard to place. The film lacks any bite and one has to wonder if Teitler should have had more say over Doyne’s screenplay. Adapting a novel to the big screen is a tremendous task, and perhaps in the novel, we are given more of an insight into the character of Judy that doesn’t translate onto the screen.
The tone shifts around dramatically, starting as a light, fluffy family comedy before shifting gear to something slightly darker. It feels too tame and safe, though. But there are aspects to enjoy here like, as mentioned, the actors who do their best with the weak material. The film is also strengthened by the handsomely shot cinematography of Rob Givens who has worked extensively in television for programs such as “American Horror Story” and “Lethal Weapon,” and for films such as “All the Bright Places” and “The Hero”. Overall, “Bad Therapy” is a muddled film that is tripped up by its poorly executed screenplay and underdeveloped characters.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film’s key players all deliver solid performances with the material they’ve been given, and cinematographer Rob Givens’ camerawork is noteworthy.
THE OSCARS – None