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MUMFORD

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Jason Lee, Martin Short, Mary McDonnell, Alfre Woodard
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2000

Film ****

Mumford can easily be summed up as a breath of fresh air. Itís one of the more pleasant, feel-good films Iíve seen in a while and it has a lot of wit as well. I had such a wonderful time watching every single character come to life. Itís the latest film to come from master writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, who knows how to write and create stories concerning contemporary adult life. In the 80s, he did it with The Big Chill, and then in the 90s with the strong and moving Grand Canyon. The original release of Mumford was close to the end of the century, and I find it to be Kasdanís best film to date, excluding Body Heat and Silverado, which I have yet to see.

The movie takes place in the quiet little town of Mumford, where the talk of the town is the stellar psychologist ironically named Dr. Mumford, played in a star-making manner by Loren Dean. Heís one Doc who has a unique talent of listening to peopleís problems, even better than the rival psychologists. Mumford has an unusual list of patients. Among the eccentric patients is young self-made millionaire Skip Skipperton (Jason Lee), who is depressed from a certain feeling of loneliness. There is the beautiful Sofie Crisp (Hope Davis), whoís afraid to lie down for fear that she may not rise up. Thereís also the local druggist (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who has a strangest fetish for pulp magazines. And thereís even a patient that Mumford fires (Martin Short), who strives to get even. There is an original quality to each of these characters that Kasdan brings to life. The words that he puts into the mouths of these characters is of true original quality, like you might hear in a book by Elmore Leonard, or even a film from Quentin Tarantino, but Kasdan completely holds his own ground.

Another original aspect of the film is the strength of the chemistry between the actors. Loren Dean and Jason Lee especially deliver a unique doctor and patient relationship that, as far as I can recall, Iíve never seen in a film. Mumford and Skip become such close friends, that the Doc even starts revealing some of his patientsí personal problems to him. Mumfordís relationship to Sofie is a sweet one as well. They slowly become attracted to one another, though Sofieís very strict mother disapproves of the doctor, to his amazement as well as ours, sort of sees right through him.

Mumford does take more surprising turns than you might expect from it. The biggest surprise comes from the main character, Dr. Mumford. He ends up revealing the details of his background to Skip, which I will completely leave to you, dear viewer, to discover for yourself. Itís a turn that I honestly didnít expect to come across.(Actually, I kind of did, since the trailer and ads revealed around 90% of the surprises, which explains why the movie didnít get the audience it deserved.) Nonetheless, discovering the backgrounds of the characters was truly a pleasure. 

The look of Mumford is special and very appealing, to me at least. Like the settings of such recent wondrous movies like The Truman Show and Pleasantville. Having said that, it would be very appropriate for me to credit Ericson Coreís grand cinematography. It really captures the beauty and landscape of the town, from the mid-town area, to the countryside where Jason Leeís rich kid character resides, along with the multi-million dollar computer business that he runs.  Like the previous movies mentioned, itís one of those rare films where you could say the setting is more or less one of the stars, which is a big complement.

While although there may not sound as if there is much to Mumford, viewers who enjoy fresh characterizations, and I know there are plenty of you out there, you should take advantage. The film is warm-hearted, hysterically funny, and an all round memorable movie.

Video ****

Disney has been on a roll ever since they considered the anamorphic transfers of their films. Along with The Insider, the video transfer on Mumford is of stellar quality. With this transfer, the town of Mumford never looked so pleasant. Presented in its 2.35:1 widescreen format, the picture is bright and clear all throughout the entire presentation, and I donít remember detecting any grain whatsoever, which is a relief.

Audio ***

Actually, there wasnít any real flaw with the audio, but then again, you canít really do much with a subtle, laid-back, special-effects free kind of movie. At any rate, I have no damaging complaints, as the 5.1 Dolby Digital transfer is still of high quality, and should stand out on any system.

Features **

Thereís only a trailer, as well as a short behind the scenes featurette.

Summary:

Mumford is a pleasant movie experience, and thereís hardly a film like that in this day and age. Itís a film thatís sort of a homage to the days of Frank Capra, who I think would be proud of the film. One of last yearís best films for sure, and it is highly recommended.