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DVD Review: Numb

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Admittedly, I was originally interested in watching Numb strictly because of the involvement of Friends star Matthew Perry. I knew nothing about the film's storyline or its writer/director, Harris Goldberg. Upon receiving the DVD, I decided to look up Harris Goldberg on IMDb. My heart sank when I realized he was responsible for writing The Master of Disguise, a terrible film starring Dana Carvey as a man named Pistachio who does a lot of voices and impressions. At first glance, this would seem to serve Carvey's talents well, except Pistachio appears to be on an acid trip throughout much of the film. Oh well, I thought as I put the DVD in my player. One bad writing credit shouldn't define a career.

Just minutes into Numb, it was clear that this was no Master of Disguise. The film is a thinly disguised autobiography of Harris Goldberg's struggle with depersonalization. Depersonalization is defined as a feeling of detachment from, or being an outside observer of, one's mental processes or body functions, such as the sensation of being in a dream.

numb_cast.jpgIn the film, depersonalization not only affects Hudson Milbank's (Matthew Perry) screenwriting career and relationship with his writing partner Tom (Kevin Pollak), but his family life and his attempts to commit to the woman of his dreams. Despite his success as a screenwriter, Hudson had always felt like he was in a constant state of panic. In an effort to pause his constant panic, Milbank smokes so much marijuana so fast that he triggers his preexisting tendency for disassociation.

When I first read the synopsis of Numb, I thought, Chandler Bing? I don't know if he has the versatility to play a role like this. However, Perry does a wonderful job, showing a range of emotions we aren't used to seeing from him. Hudson Milbank is a man desperate to find out what's wrong with him and Perry uses subtle facial expressions throughout the film to clue viewers in on what he's thinking.

perry_numb_250.jpgAccording to Harris Goldberg's DVD commentary, it was Matthew Perry's portrayal of Joe Quincy on three episodes of The West Wing that convinced the director Perry was right for the part. While there is no reason to refute Goldberg's claim, the more I thought about it, the more I thought playing Chandler Bing on Friends may have helped prepare Matthew Perry for his role as Hudson Milbank. Chandler was either the butt of a joke or the comedian; his part was not built on subtleties, but rather the exact opposite set of emotions. Both Chandler and Hudson are struggling to transform themselves into responsible adults. Though Goldberg doesn't make this abundantly clear, many of Hudson's issues are a result of his relationship with his parents.

Though his parents appear only briefly in, Hudson's interactions with them tell us a lot about their effect on his life. His dad Peter (William B. Davis) coddles Hudson even though he has his own career and responsibilities. When Hudson starts to hyperventilate during a visit home, his mother insists he take care of it. In contrast, Hudson's father rushes his son to the emergency room. Scenes like that make you think that Hudson is a kind of man-child — physically mature but mentally unable to handle the demands of an adult lifestyle.

On the other hand, Hudson plays an invaluable role in his writing partnership with Tom. He is the one who sells the scripts Tom writes. That is a very adult responsibility with a tremendous amount of pressure. In Sarah (Lynn Collins), Hudson finally finds someone who understands him and accepts him, quirks and all. She is really the first person who comes into Hudson's world and truly tries to understand how depersonalization disorder is affecting his everyday life.

Though the other actors in the film do an admirable job, the success of Numb rests squarely on the shoulders of Matthew Perry. Without his stunning ability to balance subtle humor with the depths of despair, the film would have been an unmitigated failure. By giving Hudson both neurotic and relaxed emotions — sometimes changing in mere seconds — combined with a vacant stare and not-completely-together appearance, Perry has created a believable and sympathetic character.

Though the other actors in Numb definitely take a backseat to Perry, their performances are compelling. Mary Steenburgen deserves kudos for her restaurant scene near the end of the film that is somewhat reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally. Her portrayal of Dr. Blaine, a therapist-turned-lover for Hudson, provides the film with some of its best laughs. Kevin Pollak is rather underused. He pretty much eats and drinks soda while throwing witty remarks in Matthew Perry's direction.

Lynn Collins is wonderful as Hudson's love interest, Sarah. She plays the character with a kind of offbeat quirkiness that makes it easy to like her. Somehow, her life seems so unaffected and innocent, while Hudson's life is so chaotic and edgy. There is something very admirable about the way she keeps coming back to Hudson despite the huge obstacles their relationship inevitably faces.

The DVDs 1.781:1 anamorphic transfer looks rather impressive. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 (English).

The most interesting special feature on the Numb DVD is the audio commentary with writer/director Harris Goldberg. He hardly takes a breath throughout the film's 93 minute running time. He tells stories from the set, talks about directing, and his effort to keep the film as real as possible. While these running commentaries can often render viewers catatonic, Goldberg is such an engaging speaker I found the commentary to be a wonderful addition to the film.

The DVD also includes a featurette with the cast members which is mostly a rehash of the information revealed in the commentary.

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About Rebecca Wright

  • Derek Fleek

    I agree. It’s an overlooked gem that most should acknowledge for its peerless story and fitful performances. Great review.

  • GAC

    I want my 77 minutes of life back. This movie sucked. Kept giving it 5 more minutes, never got better.