Tribeca Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | May 3, 2011
Directors: Sean Nelson, Steven Schardt
Writers: Sean Nelson, Steven Schardt
Starring: Joshua Leonard, Sean Nelson, Ross Partridge, Jessica Makinson, Brie Larson
Leonard (Joshua Leonard) has a pitch for a new screenplay, but Nelson (Sean Nelson) — the trust fund roommate from whom Leonard parasitically freeloads — wants nothing to do with his genius zeitgeist ideas. Leonard insists that his financially-focused idea is especially meaningful at this particular juncture in time; but still, Nelson does not want to listen. Then, on one fateful night, Leonard is hanging out at a dive bar when Gregg D (Ross Partridge) — a narcissistic (“You say narcissist, I say carbon-based life form”) A-list action film star who Leonard wants to play the lead in the new script — stumbles in the front door. Leonard follows Gregg D into the men’s restroom, Gregg D pisses on his leg, and the rest is history… Well, not really. Though Gregg D promises some face-time with Leonard (that is, after he washes the piss from his pant leg), Gregg D vanishes from the premises by the time Leonard emerges from the restroom cocksure and piss-free.
It turns out that Gregg D left the bar in order to check himself into Wingspan — a $10,000 per week drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that looks and acts like a luxury spa and resort. Leonard refuses to believe that his encounter with Gregg D was anything less than the hands of fate instructing him that he must work with Gregg D on this project, so he develops the bright idea to fake drug addiction in order to be admitted to Wingspan. Now if Leonard can just convince Nelson of his genius plan, because Nelson is going to have to con the executor of his trust fund — his snooty older brother (John Hodgman) — into giving him an advance payout in order to fund Wingspan’s hefty weekly fee.
The next thing we know, Leonard is being coached on the art of tangential drug-speak by none other than Mad Reg (Robyn “Tell Me About Your Drugs” Hitchcock) — ramble on about potatoes, tomatoes and frogs and you are absolutely golden. Next, Nelson and Leonard cruise around inner-city Los Angeles in a desperate search for any and all kinds of drugs — this is where a lone black man on roller skates, Smokestack Lightning (Julian A. Mitchell), comes in handy.
It is almost as easy as flashing ten thousand buckaroos at the front door and Leonard successfully checks himself into Wingspan. Leonard might not have any real addictions when he enters the facility, but soon he is all hopped up on pills that are sold to him in bulk by a fellow patient, Franny (Brie Larson). (Franny, a teenage daughter of “industry types” on her sixth return visit to rehab, is quite possibly modeled after Lindsey Lohan; as Gregg D seems to be a fictional representation of Charlie Sheen. To say this film touches the zeitgeist of today is an understatement. ) In this capacity, Treatment functions as a diatribe about the sheer preponderance of reasons why many celebrities cannot recover from addiction in luxury facilities. For one, Wingspan is a pampering vacation resort that cares about profitability above all else; they benefit from repeat and long-term customers, therefore quick and permanent recovery does not factor into their equation. The blame is not one-sided however, the patients at Wingspan are much more interested in the comfort of extravagances than recovery.
Leonard soon finds himself facing the legitimacy of “The Beast” as well as the age-old existential dilemma of whether to choose art or money (or as Gregg D so eloquently puts it: “Do you feel it in your heart or in your sack?”). Let us just say that Leonard is probably better at making excuses than creating art.
Treatment works well on many levels, but first and foremost it entertains. It is an intelligently written character study brimming with deadpan dialogue and sharp-witted one-liners. When it comes down to it, this is a story about two old friends who are teetering at the brink of a midlife crisis. Leonard is still waiting to prove himself as an artist (thus justifying his life as a parasite) while Nelson must take his trust fund status by the horns (thus justifying his life as a parasite). There is only so long you can live for free in this world before you have to show some kind of return.
In addition to Leonard, Nelson, Partridge, and Larson — Chris Caniglia is fantastic as B.Z. Sullivan, the self help jargon-spewing guru of Wingspan, and Jessica Makinson is pitch-perfect as Wingspan’s counselor, Jessica. Filled with actors from top notch Mumblecore films such as My Effortless Brilliance, Humpday, and Baghead, Treatment forgoes many of Mumblecore’s hyper-realistic tendencies in favor of an entertaining narrative. That is not to say that the writing-directing duo of Nelson and Schardt has sold out with Treatment — au contraire mon frere, Treatment remains wholeheartedly independent in terms of aesthetic, plot and message. If Treatment was a Hollywood production, I bet that it would have starred Zach Galifianakis and therefore it would have been completely over the top. (Not that I do not love me some Galifianakis, but there is a time and a place…and this is neither.)