Depersonalization disorder can best be attached to the same effect as unplugging an electric guitar from its amplifier: no matter what you do or how hard you try to strike up a racket, it doesn't really matter one lick since you can't hear a thing and, thus, cannot interact much with the music. In other words you can't feel a damn thing, which is the problem at hand after Hudson (Matthew Perry, Serving Sara) triggers his acute form of the disorder by tugging one too many hits off a joint one night. He's a successful writer -- well, a successful writer / pitch-maker alongside his truly talented brother (Kevin Pollak, The Whole Nine Yards) -- who can no longer associate himself with the world. After soaking into hours of stasis-inducing golf tournaments on television and marathons involving the longest minute-count films in history, he realizes that he needs serious help and, quite possibly, some serious medication to either dilute or spark this inconsistency inside of him.
Hudson cycles through no less than three doctors, including one particularly befuddling relationship with a renowned behaviorist (Mary Steenburgen, Elf), all of which he builds different types of associations with in the film. Numb circulates around his strife to find the right doctor that will "fix" him, much in the same way as many mentally ill people do in the course of a lifetime. He strikes many different kinds of bumps in the patient-therapist bond with each practitioner, ones that poke fun at some rather serious topics of malpractice and murky doctoral relationships. Numb is lighthearted much in the same ways that One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is regarding medication -- which really means that it carefully walks along a eerily dark line. There's a keyhole there, though, that can allow for humor to be seen. It's an attractively captured keyhole at that, aptly photographed by Juno's richly color-focused cinematographer Eric Steelberg.
Accurately portraying an individual that is both apathetic about the world and wishing with all his might to not be that way is no easy feat, but Matthew Perry handles Hudson's disconnected persona with a surprising level of organic potency. He's able to communicate through his twitchy movements and conflicted eyes much more than I was expecting, as he can really sell you on the idea that he wants to pull himself out of his aching numbness. Moreover, much of his eccentric Friends and Whole Nine Yards type of dialogue is picked clean from Numb, leaving only the honesty and pain that Hudson feels in Perry's voice as the character rustles enough gusto together to keep on living. The one thing that kept my complete enthrallment reserved is Numb's reliance on Hudson's wavering narration. It flounders between hit-and-miss insightfulness and bland hand-holding through the narrative, though it ultimately settles in as a claustrophobic mechanism that helps us "feel" like we're in Hudson's head.
Thankfully, it's a discomforting claustrophobia that we can really get into, as Numb comes out of nowhere with strikingly affective energy. It's interesting how Matthew Perry and writer-director Goldberg utilize his distinct physical traits and mannerisms for Hudson; they almost don't want you to completely forget the fact that he's "Chandler", instead wanting you to soak in his damaged character's discomforting actions and reactions as a weakened and subdued version of his well-known personality. Part of Numb's gravitational interest lies in the ways Hudson's character eccentricities are written, quite well in fact, from his nest-like presence in his home to his fear of societal interaction. It takes the similar humor surrounding As Good As It Gets' agoraphobic nature and tenses it up, but not without keeping a somewhat amusing tone. Harris Goldberg's concrete script, one that walks dangerously close along the line between humor and vividness, lends it some tonal disproportion .. yet, somehow, it rarely neglects to be convincing in either spectrum.
Hudson's muse and cleansing agent, also considered to be the pendulum that Numb begins to swing on as soon as she walks into the picture, arrives in radiant fashion via a Tourette's-stricken beauty named Sara, played with pitch-perfect warmth and honesty by Lynn Collins. It's a rather sizable leap of faith to believe that a man with as many issues as Hudson can be rectified simply by the love of a woman, but that never becomes an issue when the chemistry between two characters is as stimulating as Hudson and Sara's. By no accident, as this ultimately transcends into a romantic dram-com in its second half, Numb's rays of happiness lie in Sara's character and her screwy attempts at meshing with someone much more damaged than herself. It's a co-dependent path her and Hudson go down with many explosive kinks and complications, but one that its top-billed performers walk down with surprising vigor and intimacy.
As far as overlooked direct-to-video releases are concerned, Numb is surprisingly poignant. Filled with brash dialogue and some harder-to-watch outbursts from a well-known reactionary comic, Goldberg's film about a brashly intimate relationship hinged on internal mental repair keeps the momentum going until its enjoyably erratic and heart-wrenching climax. Both Lynn Collins and Matthew Perry even infuse a straightforward and somewhat predictable climactic monologue with tons of energy and chemistry. That's the true testament to Numb's strength -- it grounds even its most unbelievable moments in earnest, graspable emotionality.
Numb comes packaged from Image Entertainment in a standard keepcase presentation with attractive, fitting coverart and matching discart.
Frankly, the digital transfer Numb exhibits here in its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is quite attractive and finely detailed. As mentioned before, Steelberg's color-centric eye irises in on plenty of bold colors and rich details in this film. Image's transfer shows off this fluent display of color quite well without pushing too hard in saturation. Most noticeably strong, however, is the level of detail in its image. Wood grain, fabric textures, an even metallic consistency leap out from the print. Some of the backgrounds get a little noisy here and there and the black levels grow a little muddy in several of the dimly lit scenes with Perry's character watching television, but outside of those forgivable transfer burps Numb looks quite solid.
Dialogue driven to the core, Numb's Dolby Digital 5.1 track pours out in complete utility fashion. It's a struggle to even think of any other sound bits outside of Perry's narration and dialogue with his other cast members. Everything here, though, sounds out in a completely audible level, though it gets a little bit muffled in some of the quieter conversation scenes between Hudson and Sara. English 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo tracks are available, as are optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Audio Commentary with director Harris Goldberg:
Since Goldberg based his script for Numb largely on his intrinsic experience of coping with depersonalization, a lot of this track focuses on his explanations on scene-specific material and how it correlates with his true-life events. There are bits and pieces thrown in about its little production budget, month-long shooting schedule, and the effervescent presence of Lynn Collins as Hudson's rod-and-reel from his detached pond, but most of the interesting commentary here comes in Goldberg delving into the parallels between the film and his real experience. It's a very good listen, though a little self-concentrated and self-explanatory.
Numb: An Inside Look:
Featuring a lot of interview time with Harris Goldberg that re-explains a lot from his commentary track, this twenty-minute (20) fullscreen / letterbox featurette also splices in some choice words from the rest of the cast and filmmakers with scenes from the film. It reveals something odd about the film as well; several of the scenes are shown in an alternate 2.35:1 widescreen image, conversely from this DVD's transfer. Numb: An Inside Look is a relatively generic marketing tool used to talk about the characters and their inspirations for the characters and themes of the movie, but like others it has its moments of clarity.
Furthermore, we're also given a very good anamorphic widescreen Trailer.
As far as I can tell, Harris Goldberg's Numb didn't receive any real theatrical run. It's an understandable shame; maybe it's because Matthew Perry was too difficult of a sell as a chronically apathetic depressant, or maybe because the revolution of the film around medication and its ambiguous effects would've been a little too tricky to market. It's a shame, because the self-proclaimed cathartic dissection from the writer of silly comedies Without a Paddle and the Deuce Bigelow series nails a vast majority of its thematic ideas. It's a wholly engrossing dram-com, one that might resonate more within individuals that have had direct association or contact with clinical depression. Image's disc also portrays the attractively-photographed film in a radiant light, therefore earning Numb an easy Recommendation as a somewhat challenging and earnest direct-to-video dark romance.