Mumford [1999]

Loren Dean, a pleasant, attractive actor who seems to fall seamlessly into the background of every film he's in (Gattaca, Enemy of the State, Apollo 13), is perfectly cast in Mumford as a psychologist (named Mumford) who wanders into a small town (named Mumford) and suddenly fits seamlessly into everybody's rhythms and routines. Balancing a no-nonsense approach with a keen ability to listen sincerely to everyone's problems (with the exception of a snotty lawyer, played by Martin Short), he's a friendly, approachable blank slate for all those who come to visit him. And while he's tending to the shopaholic housewife (Mary McDonnell), the pulp-fantasizing pharmacist (Pruitt Taylor Vince), and the anorexic teenager (Zooey Deschanel), no one seems to give a second thought to who the man is behind the therapeutic face, not even his slightly sardonic neighbor (Alfre Woodard). It's not until he befriends a sweetly daft computer billionaire (Jason Lee) and starts treating a chronically fatigued young woman (Hope Davis) that his past--or rather, lack of one--starts coming into play, for it turns out that Mumford is not exactly who he says he is. Less a mystery than an affectionate, perfectly modulated character study, Mumford easily represents writer-director Lawrence Kasdan's best work in a decade. While the plot seems whimsically Capra-esque and the dialogue sometimes stilted, it's so carefully and quietly directed that its good will and gentle spirit seem to float lightly off the screen. Kasdan hasn't created such engaging characters since The Big Chill, and all are winning without seeming artificial. Most amazing is Davis, who manages to invest a woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome with an inner glow that slowly becomes brighter as the film progresses. And Dean, as the enigmatic Mumford, may have finally found his breakthrough role; after years as an also-ran, he finally emerges as a solid, charming leading man. After Mumford, you won't forget his name, or face. --Mark Englehart

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