A Manhattan Private School Teacher, in Love and Therapy

Running Time 86 minutes
Directed by Oren Rudavsky
Written by Daniel Saul Housman
Starring Chris Eigeman, Famke Janssen, Ian Holm

Oren Rudavsky’s The Treatment, from a screenplay by Daniel Saul Housman, based on the novel by Daniel Menaker, turns out to be the romantic sleeper of the season despite its dealing with such well-worn screen phenomena as classroom discussions, shrink humor, and upper middle-class New York City parenting and schooling. The difference here is a gifted acting ensemble down to the smallest parts, a good mix of whimsy and intelligent discourse, with just a touch of fantasy that never engulfs the narrative.

Jake Singer (Chris Eigeman) teaches English and gym at an exclusive private school in Manhattan. He has just run into an old flame, Julia (Stephanie March), who has given him the dispiriting news that she is now engaged to another man. Jake brings all his gloom and doom to a weekly session with his outrageously invasive (though bargain-priced) Latin-American psychiatrist, Dr. Ernesto Morales (an impish Ian Holm). When we later see and hear Jake lecture on Chekhov to a skeptical class of spoiled students, what is interesting is that his comments are serious and sustained far beyond the norm in such screen situations.

He is clearly—and perhaps a bit too obviously—one of the good guys on the faculty as he champions the cause of a troublesome token black student at the school, recruited more for his schoolyard basketball prowess than for his academic potential. Fortunately, this politically correct side issue peters out as the defining aspect of the film.

When Jake first encounters Allegra Marshall (Famke Janssen), the widowed mother of one of his students, he is immediately attracted to her despite the dour warnings of the now omnipresent Dr. Morales, in both fact and fantasy. Every hesitation or misstep on Jake’s part is seized upon by the shrink as yet another demonstration of Jake’s fear of making a commitment because of some ancient meshuga with his mother.

Nor is Jake encouraged in his courtship by his sternly patriarchal dad, Dr. Singer (Harris Yulin), who looks askance at Allegra’s being a little older than Jake, with two children of her own (though one is still in the process of being adopted). Indeed, Dr. Singer is tactless enough to come right out and ask Allegra if she would ever consider having a child with Jake. Allegra answers very tentatively that she would have to see how things work out.

But everywhere Jake goes, and with every bump in his relationship with Allegra, Dr. Morales is on hand to put in his two cents’ worth. Even after Jake and Allegra are finally a lifelong item and Jake is locked in a film-ending clinch, he still keeps one eye open just in case Dr. Morales reappears to throw cold water on his tenuous happiness.

Mr. Eigeman gives Jake enough space and scope to shine as a comically troubled hero, and Ms. Janssen generates a warm glow of compassion for the often bewildered man she has chosen to restart her existence. Among the other talented members of the cast are Blair Brown as Miss Callucci, the investigator for an adoption agency that temporarily throws a monkey wrench in Jake’s wooing of Allegra; Stephen Lang as Galgano, the hard-nosed, bigoted basketball coach; and Roger Rees as Jake’s pompous superior at the school. All in all, The Treatment is a welcome relief from an otherwise dismal movie season.

A Manhattan Private School Teacher, in Love and Therapy