Numb is a hard movie to peg, but if we must do so with this quirky drama, let's say it falls somewhere within the realm of a romantic comedy. The humor hardly ever comes from the romantic aspects of the story, however; it comes from Matthew Perry and his performance, the real selling points of this quality DVD. Writer/director Harris Goldberg has gone under the radar and come out with an amiable film about dysfunction and how people deal with it.
Perry, who became a star playing Chandler on "Friends," is wonderfully numb as Hudson Milbank, an LA writer who has begun to feel disconnected. While he has always been an anxious person, his recent attempt to smoke pot to feel better has triggered a huge problem, which turns out to be depersonalization disorder. The disorder makes a person feel constantly disconnected, like they are an observer to their own mental and physical processes. It is recognized as a psychological disorder and is believed to be the body's responding to stress by putting itself in a constant state of fight-or-flight.
The reality of living with depersonalization is the main focus of the film, and all of the experiences Hudson goes through are framed through it, whether he's falling in love, breaking up, dealing with his dysfunctional family, or just trying to get through another night. Depersonalization makes him uncomfortable around most people. It gives him a hard time sleeping. It makes him space out at almost any time because he can hardly be sure that what is going on around him is really happening. He also becomes paranoid, and all of these things obviously add up to a dysfunctional, hard to live with man.
Hudson has to pull himself together just long enough to help make pitches with his writing partner, Tom (Kevin Pollak). Other than that, he can survive by watching the golf channel at his little house in suburbia and taking the insane amounts of medications prescribed by his successive psychologists. However, he meets Sara (Lynn Collins) on a job, and she immediately appeals to him, soothing his nerves. They begin dating, and the film follows their relationship, splitting time between romance and dysfunction, which leads to a funny and touching film.
Perry is wonderful in the lead, easily trouncing everyone else's screen time. But don't expect a Chandler type of performance; Perry stays small, usually not responding at all to what is happening around him; the special features recount over and over again that Goldberg kept telling Perry to go even smaller in subsequent takes. This leads to some of the funniest moments of the film because the quirky situations he finds himself in merit a much bigger reaction. Pollak and Collins are the best supporting players, but also expect a laugh from Mary Steenburgen as one of Hudson's most interesting psychologists.
While the film takes place in LA, it was shot in and around Vancouver for $3.3 million. What can I say, Canada is the place to make movies right now, for economic reasons. Numb features a lot of Canucks, and look for the elusive Cigarette Smoking Man, William B. Davis (The X-Files used to be shot in Vancouver for its first few seasons). Davis stars as Hudson's father, who is a big source of anxiety for Hudson. And Perry is a Canadian, himself, which I didn't realize. Vancouver almost passes as suburban LA, but there is a noticeable lack of establishing aerial shots of downtown.
Numb is fundamentally autobiographical; Goldberg really went through most of this stuff. This was a cathartic expression by a screenwriter who usually writes mainstream Hollywood comedies like Without a Paddle. Reading peoples' (not critics, but regular people) opinions of Numb online, it sounds as though Goldberg really got the experiences of depersonalization right. Frankly, you might want to see the film more for its representation of depersonalization than for its legitimacy as a romantic comedy. There just isn't that much time spent on romance.
The video on Numb is pretty standard for the technology of our time. Shot on 35mm, the movie looks great, and it was transferred to the DVD well. The bright cinematography lends itself well to quality visuals, and I've always found that brighter images look better than dark ones when upconverted onto a hi-def TV. Numb is enhanced for widescreen TV's and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. (This is insane because the film was shot in 2.35:1. This is the frist time I've ever heard of an anamorphic film being chopped down to standard widescreen for home video. Image Entertainment must really be banking on the fact that people are too stupid to appreciate an anamorphic image; they prefer to simply have their widescreen TV's filled in completely with picture.)
Other than a commentary track, the DVD has one 5.1-surround track in English and a 2.0-stereo track in English. The audio is always sufficient and mixed well. You might as well watch it with surround if you can, but there really isn't that much for the 5.1 track to do; the movie mostly consists of people sitting somewhere talking to each other. All you need to hear in Numb is the dialogue.
The special features on Numb are worthwhile enough for a watch. The most notable is "Numb: An Inside Look," an overall appropriate title for a behind-the-scenes feature about a movie dealing with psychological problems. It does a great job of telling Goldberg's intentions and motivations for making the film, and it has on-screen interviews with all of the major cast. It is 18 minutes long, but it is not enhanced for 16x9 TV's, and a lot of it is in 4x3. Interestingly, this feature contains clips in 2.35:1 from the film.
The other special feature is the commentary with writer and director Goldberg. It is insane to watch it and realize that a lot of the most uncomfortable situations in the movie are exactly what happened to him in real life. If you watch Numb to relate to Hudson about his disorder, you'll definitely want to listen to this informative commentary.
Numb is a high quality DVD, with a small amount of worthwhile special features. Be aware: the film is quirky and will only appeal to some, and Matthew Perry is not his "Friends" character transposed to a movie. However, give this one a shot. This gets a "Recommended" from DVD Talk.