Aisha Tyler, Alicia Silverstone, Anna Pniowsky, Bad Therapy, comedy, David Paymer, drama, Haley Joel Osment, Judy Small, Michaela Watkins, movies, Paris Bravo, reviews, Rob Corddry, Sarah Shahi, William Teitler
April 17, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by William Teitler
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dark comedy “Bad Therapy” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asian Americans) representing the middle-class and upper-class.
Culture Clash: A middle-aged married couple go to a relationship therapist, who’s actually a manipulative, toxic person who tries to break up the couple.
Culture Audience: “Bad Therapy” will appeal mostly to people who like to see movies about troubled marriages or unhinged characters, but the film’s uneven tone and sloppy, predictable screenplay make this movie a disappointing waste of time.
“Bad Therapy” is supposed to be a dark comedy or a comedy/drama or a dramedy, but the movie’s three lead actors have such contradictory styles in their performances that it makes the entire tone of this poorly written film look completely out of whack. Nancy Doyne adapted the “Bad Therapy” screenplay from her novel “Judy Small,” which was the original title of the movie. However, the “Judy Small” book isn’t even listed on Amazon, so it might be difficult for viewers to find out how the movie differs from the book.
Judy Small is the name of the family/relationship therapist who wreaks havoc on the lives of a Los Angeles married couple—real-estate agent Susan Howard (played by Alicia Silverstone) and TV executive Bob Howard (played by Rob Corddry)—who are both in their early 40s and have been married for three years. Living with the couple is Susan’s rebellious 13-year-old daughter Louise (played Anna Pniowsky), who does things like smoke marijuana and defy her school’s dress code. Louise is Susan’s daughter from Susan’s first marriage, which tragically ended when her first husband (who was her college sweetheart) died in a fishing accident. Bob has apparently adopted Louise, since her last name is also Howard.
At the beginning of the story, Susan is feeling restless and discontented in her career and in her marriage. Being a single mother for five years has left her constantly worried about financial security, while Bob is the exact opposite and doesn’t think they need to worry about money. (It’s revealed later in the film that Bob is head of programming at a network called the Nature Channel, where he makes $125,000 a year.)
Bob suggests that they have a biological child together, but Susan doesn’t really like the idea because it would be difficult for her to conceive a child at her age, and she’s feeling uncertain about where the marriage is going. “I want a break from all the drudgery!” she wails at one point in the movie.
There are also indications that Susan is a worrisome control freak. She nags at Rob (who’s not overweight) about what he eats, by warning him that he could have a heart attack. During breakfast, after Susan leaves for work, he throws his bran oatmeal in the garbage disposal and orders a cholesterol-heavy meal over the phone from a local restaurant. Later in the story, it’s revealed that Susan has forbidden Louise from taking public transportation, presumably because she doesn’t think public transportation is safe enough for her 13-year-old daughter.
It’s clear that one of the reasons why their marriage has hit a rough patch is precisely because Bob and Susan are total opposites in their outlooks on life. Susan is someone who’s the type of person who’s very judgmental and likes to have goals and plans (and she tends to get anxious if things don’t go her way), while Bob is more of a “go with the flow” easygoing type of person. In the beginning of the movie, before they begin therapy, Susan also expresses regret that she and Bob didn’t properly discuss the issue of them having a child together. And now, Bob wants Susan to have a child with him, but she doesn’t share that same wish.
One day, Susan has lunch with her close friend Roxy (played by Aisha Tyler), who’s a materialistic and shallow trophy wife to a wealthy business mogul. Roxy tells Susan the happy news that she’s pregnant with triplets after going through fertility treatments. Roxy also mentions that she and her husband have been seeing a relationship therapist. Susan asks Roxy for the name of the therapist, because Susan says that she and Bob might need marriage counseling.
When Susan brings up the idea of marriage counseling to Bob, he is extremely reluctant, but Susan eventually persuades him. “If it will make you happy, we’ll try it,” says Bob. It won’t be long before Susan and Bob regret that decision.
Judy Small works in a small office in a strip mall—the first indication that her practice is not very successful. She starts off the couple’s first session by getting Susan and Bob to talk about themselves and why they think they need counseling. Susan does most of the talking during this first session, while Bob admits to Judy that he really doesn’t want to be there.
Susan tells Judy what her first marriage was like (it was very happy, she says), but her marriage to Bob is on shaky ground: “I want our marriage to be the real thing,” says says of her relationship with Bob. “For some reason, I don’t feel satisfied.” On the other hand, Bob doesn’t think their marriage is in trouble.
Susan actually does too much talking during that first session, because she reveals something that is news to Bob: She’s worried that Bob might start having inappropriate thoughts about Louise, now that Louise has hit puberty age. Susan bases this suspicion on how she thinks Bob has been looking at Louise recently. Bob vehemently denies that he thinks about Louise sexually, and he tells Susan how hurtful it was for her to think he could do something so heinous. Judy suggests that Louise join them in their next therapy session so that she can observe their family dynamics.
However, enough was said in this first session for Judy to see the cracks in the Howards’ marriage and to use those vulnerabilities to her advantage. One of the first clues that Judy might intend to cause trouble is how she openly flirts with Bob in front of Susan, by saying how extremely attractive he is and that he must get a lot of female attention. Of course, Susan misses this big red flag because she tends to be self-absorbed and is the type of person who loves to hear herself complain about her life.
Judy sees even more ways to manipulate the couple when Louise reluctantly joins them for the next session, and Judy sees that Louise resents Susan for being overprotective. And then, Judy’s devious machinations really start to kick into high gear when she suggests (and Susan readily agrees) that she counsel Susan and Bob alone in separate sessions. During these separate sessions, Judy uses information that they tell her to drive a wedge of distrust between Bob and Susan, especially when it comes to a past cheating fling that Bob had while he was dating Susan. (He lets this information slip during a solo session with Judy.)
As the therapy sessions continue, it becomes pretty clear that Judy wants to seduce Bob. And she encourages Susan to have an affair with another man, but Susan completely hates the idea and doesn’t want to do it. Because Bob and Susan have separate sessions with Judy, she’s able to manipulate them into thinking that they’re falling out of love with each other.
“Bad Therapy” has some dialogue and lines that are downright cringeworthy. At one point in the movie, Judy says to Bob: “Trust is like a muscle. Once it’s torn, it’s difficult to repair.”
It should come as no surprise that Judy has a dark past, which is revealed in the movie. There are also people from her past—including someone named Dr. Ed Kingsley (played by David Paymer)—who can threaten to expose Judy and her secrets. What could have been the most suspenseful part of the film is actually handled in a very clunky and unrealistic way.
In addition to the screenplay’s flaws (some of Bob and Susan’s actions make no sense after they see more of Judy’s true colors), the movie’s three main actors deliver performances as if they’re in three different movies.
Silverstone portrays Susan as an over-emoting neurotic who’s in a wacky comedy. (In “Bad Therapy,” she gives Jim Carrey a run for his money with rubber-faced expressions.) It’s by far the most annoying, worst performance in the movie, which is a shame because Silverstone is capable of doing better acting. (Her small but tragically impactful role in the horror film “The Lodge” is a recent example of how she can show good acting talent.)
Corddry is playing Bob as if he’s in straightforward drama, which this movie is most definitely not. Because Bob has cheated on Susan before (prior to their marriage), the movie drops major hints that he’s capable of cheating on Susan again, especially since she’s become a bit of shrew in their marriage. Unfortunately, Corddry (who was such a comedic scene-stealer in “Hot Tub Time Machine”) has almost no sense of humor at all in portraying Bob. It’s too bad that Corddry plays Bob in such a bland, forgettable way because Bob is a character who reacts to things, so the character had great potential for comedic possibilities, but it ended up being a missed opportunity.
As for Watkins, she comes closest to the movie’s intended dark comedy. But the way she portrays the unhinged Judy is as a hollow, not-very-smart villain. Even with some of the terrible dialogue in the movie, there was a way for Watkins to elevate the character’s “femme fatale” appeal, but she didn’t. Instead, Judy just comes across as creepy and weird, when charm and intelligence would be needed for this type of corrupt therapist to fool people.
One of the odd things about “Bad Therapy” is that it spends too much time veering off into subplots that are not necessary to the story. There are several scenes that show what teenage Louise does at school and in her free time that didn’t need to be in the film, except for one scene that takes place on a bus. While on the bus, Louise (defying her mother’s orders not to take public transportation) and her best friend Zooey (played by Paris Bravo) happen to see Judy walking down the street. It’s a scene where Judy shows her demented side.
And there’s another unnecessary subplot involving Bob’s co-worker Reed (played by Haley Joel Osment), who confesses to Bob that he’s had an office fling with someone in the accounting department named Annabelle (played by Sarah Shahi), who left her husband because of the affair, and now she wants to run off with Reed and move to Mexico. Reed, who wants to break up with Annabelle, has a live-in girlfriend who’s eager to get married. Reed has no intentions of breaking up with his live-in girlfriend and moving to Mexico.
Reed tells Bob that he’s afraid that if he ends the relationship with Annabelle in the wrong way, she might accuse him of sexual harassment later to get revenge on him. Bob has no business getting involved, but he does anyway, by volunteering to talk to Annabelle about it. And where does he have this private and sensitive discussion with Annabelle that’s supposed to prevent a possibly messy #MeToo situation? In a bar, where Annabelle promptly puts the moves on Bob.
It’s not really a spoiler to reveal this subplot about Bob’s colleagues Reed and Annabelle, because it really has no bearing on what happens in the rest of the movie, which has one too many filler scenes. And the scenes that are necessary are just substandard and often dull, with awkward performances from the three lead actors. How bad is “Bad Therapy”? It makes Lifetime movies (which are often about troubled romances and crazy/evil women) look like masterpieces.
Gravitas Ventures released “Bad Therapy” on digital and VOD on April 17, 2020.