Analyze This Review

220px-Analyze_thisRating: BBB / 70%

Director: Harold Ramis

Cast: Robert Di Nero, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Vitarelli

‘Once with the Mob, always with the Mob.’

Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal) was only an average shrink, indifferently listening to his patients who were usually maudlin women with low self-esteem, and living in the shadow of his dad, a reputed psychiatrist with three books to his credit. He intends to start a new life with Laura (Lisa Kudrow), a small-time reporter, and wants Michael (Kyle Sabihy), his teenage son from his former wife to accept her as mommy. He also wants Michael to stop eavesdropping on his sessions (and blurting it out at the inopportune moment); at a party, when Ben tries to convince his dad he’s getting challenging cases at work, Michael adds, much to his dad’s dismay, that Ben has a patient who ‘s**ts trout’ – not something a shrink would want to brag about, would he? What this shrink needs to save his own shrinking self-esteem is a case that introduces a challenge big enough to shake him awake from his career snooze. Paul Vitti brings him this challenge.

It isn’t Vitti’s problem – a case of guilt consciousness after witnessing one’s father’s murder –  that’s challenging, but Vitti himself. The man’s a top mobster, and he’s played by De Niro, an actor who’s practically spent the latter years of his career playing characters which lampoon his serious roles in classics like Godfather 2, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. He’s fortunately not on auto-pilot ‘has-been De Niro’ mode that’s gotten on our nerves lately; he acts out his part here with a sly and fresh willingness that foregoes not the energy and interest required to make the self-parodying funny and witty. His character wants to get in touch with his feelings, and fortunately for him (and unfortunately for Ben), his henchman Jelly (Joe Vitarelli) has got Ben’s business card readily available in his pocket; after Ben’s car rams into Jelly’s (which carries a bound-up victim in its trunk) in a previous scene, Ben, unaware of Jelly’s occupation or the kidnapped person in the trunk, hands him his business card after apologizing for the accident. The next day, he gets Vitti at his office, and his troubles begin.

Vitti’s like Colin Firth’s King George VI in King’s Speech, well aware of the consequences of his weakness but just too egocentric and obstinate to change himself. He warns Ben not to turn him into a ‘f*g’ (as if therapy is meant for homosexuals only), and thinks one session of problem identification is enough by itself to solve his problem. Ben is given an offer he dare not refuse, but his acceptance means he’s on call 24/7, even on the day of his wedding. Laura is both worried and annoyed, and her engagement with Ben becomes all the more eventful with a man plunging down to his death in the background. Vitti’s enemies take notice of this ‘new guy’, while the FBI wants Ben to help them in apprehending Vitti and his men. Michael just finds it all ‘so cool’. In a way it is, as Ben is showered with expensive gifts, money and complements from Vitti, but the bottom-line is that he’s with the mob, and its known that if a person deals with the Mafia, the only two ways of quitting are a) when the mafia itself distances from the person and lets him live peacefully or b) death. And Ben constantly fears for his life, with loaded guns cocked at him whenever he rebels or talks of quitting. He doesn’t have the freedom Geoffrey Rush’s character Lionel Logue had in The King’s Speech. He has to think thrice before telling this particular patient to shut up and listen.

The situations created by Harold Ramis for the film’s characters draw out the humor, and it’s really good to see that this guy really knew the films he intended to spoof (learn something, Mr. Jason Friedberg and Mr. Aaron Seltzer). His characters play their parts seriously but what they’re doing is essentially comedy, and placing them in improbable situations (ever thought you’d see a ruthless mobster listening to a shrink, or a shrink in mobsters’ company?) and giving them appropriately humorous dialogues is what turns Analyze This into a whip-smart, rib-tickling situational comedy. It reminds me of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where there’s actually a romantic scene with a woman and her lover with a donkey’s head; the entire far-fetched nature of the situation, its extraordinary case of occurrence mixed with its tone of seriousness made the scene a treat to relish. It’s really sad that a lot many comedies nowadays rely largely on the vulgarity/raunchiness/obscenity of the jokes themselves instead of the situations, and the dialogues too have lost spark and inventiveness. In Analyze This, we have De Niro, all pathetic and curled up, crying like a baby while his enemies are firing from every direction. We also have Crystal pretending to be Vitti’s consigliere and slapping Viterelli in a laugh-out-loud scene in the climax. Moments like these remain in memory to treasure and cherish.

(Note: Lisa Kudrow plays a web therapist herself in the comedy web production and TV series Web Therapy. The third season features Billy Crystal in the role of Garrett Pink. My wish-list for guest stars includes Robert De Niro; would be especially fun to feature him as Camilla Bowner’s (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) husband and maybe persuade Meryl to make another appearance too)

 

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