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Numb (2007)

Numb. Feature film. (2007, 93 mins) IMDB

...You wouldn't believe it was Matthew Perry...

M

atthew Perry plays a Hollywood screenwriter who suffers from a mental illness called depersonification. In other words, he doesn't feel himself. He lives as if he's watching himself. It's hard to truly understand what it's like, but it drives him batty. He spends his time inside watching the Golf Channel. He doesn't socialize. He doesn't engage in life.

I suspect it's a condition common to writers. The question is do writers become that way because they write or is someone with the illness likely to become a writer. I'm not sure, but I think it's an interesting question.

I was a bit reluctant to watch the film because I expected to see the same Matthew Perry playing for yukes and a bit of a goof-ball, but I was pleasantly surprised. We don't see the Perry we've seen in other movies. There is no sarcasm for example. Instead we see a range of emotions and most of it not played for laughs. No pratfalls. No sight gags.

The film has bookends. We see his late arrival for a very important meeting then flashback a ways until we return to that moment--a moment where our hero has transformed himself. More or less.

There are two arcs to this story. The first arc deals with his mental health and his desire to get help. Help from therapists and medications and variations of them. Nothing seems to work.

If we met him at a social function or during business, we might think he's a bit detached, but not crazy or unstable. In this way it reminds us of something fundamental about human nature. Everything about myself is important. Everything. But to you it is probably mundane and irrelevant. We are our own gods in our life.

The second arc of this story is about love. While our hero is falling apart, he meets a woman who loves him and is everything he isn't. She's sociable and friendly and smiling and positive. When she entered the picture, I expected this film would therefore be a classic romantic comedy, but it isn't. The focus is on his mental health and trying to find some relief.

Kevin Pollack plays his writing partner. Pollack has the perspective and acerbic wit. He tries to help his friend, and in a way he does, but obviously it rests with Husdon.

Steenburgen plays an attractive UCLA therapist focused on applying cognitive behaviour techniques on Hudson. To some extent they work. To some extent. They meet because Hudson just broke up with Sara. He's having sessions with her because he's hot for her, but there can't be a relationship outside of the office. He's a patient of hers. That barrier doesn't last long because she has the hots for him and soon it becomes an obsession. Such an obsession that he is frightened away from her. Of course, what's not to like about Steenburgen. Physically she's my kind of woman.

The writer and director of this film wrote it based on his own experiences as a Hollywood screenwriter. It seems brave to do because mental illness has such a stigma attached to it.

While I enjoyed this film and related to it completely (there are certainly aspect of my life in it) I didn't enjoy it as much as another film about a writer: SIDEWAYS. I think I know why. First it's the comedy level. NUMB doesn't play for comedy even though there are comedic moments. Second, I think it's incredibly difficult to relate to this protagonist's illness. For some reason it doesn't seem real. We never fully appreciate what it's like to be him and therefore can't understand or emphasize with what he's dealing with. That makes his struggle less relevant. Finally, I think the love interest arcs could have been handled better. It competed with the other arc and seemed sandwiched in. I'm thinking of AS GOOD AS IT GETS. The arc in that film is the love relationship not Marvin trying to overcome his illness and people can relate to love stories much better than they can obscure mental illnesses. But I could be completely wrong.

Posted 2009/02/14 at 19h33ET in Movie Commentary.

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