Too many of today’s confused filmmakers can turn even the most innocent material into a sordid, vulgar mess. Writer and director Lawrence Kasdan (SILVERADO, THE BIG CHILL, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, and GRAND CANYON) does this in his newest movie, MUMFORD, by including strong foul language, some obscene sexual references and nudity. He keeps returning, however, to the strength of this romantic, entertaining, feel-good movie – a very appealing and relatively good-hearted, but slightly misguided, young man who likes to help other people solve their personal problems. Relative unknown Loren Dean (BILLY BATHGATE) gives a star-making, funny and very sympathetic performance as the young man. He brings the movie to life every time he’s on screen.
MUMFORD tells the story of a young psychologist named Dr. Mumford who hangs out his shingle in a small town that, curiously, is also called Mumford. His quirky patients are won over by his genuine attentiveness, warmness and frankness, but the man who hears the secrets has the biggest secret of all – he’s trying to turn around his own life. Complicating matters further is the fact that he finds himself falling in love with one of his patients, a young, pretty, divorced blonde named Sofie who may be suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
As mentioned above, relative unknown Loren Dean gives a star-making, funny and very sympathetic performance as Dr. Mumford. He may remind people of a young Jimmy Stewart. Dean’s performance is greatly assisted by the rest of the cast, especially Jason Lee (MALLRATS and CHASING AMY) as the town’s super-rich computer geek, Mary McDonnell (DANCES WITH WOLVES) as a troubled woman married to Ted Danson’s materialistic, insensitive financier, Cicely Tyson as Dr. Mumford’s level-headed friend, Lily, and Hope Davis (NEXT STOP, WONDERLAND) as the warm and quiet love interest, Sofie.
Unlike other recent movies, such as AMERICAN BEAUTY, MUMFORD is not a vicious attack on Middle American people and values, despite the quirky characters populating the small town. In fact, the movie mostly upholds American (and Christian) values like honesty, integrity, compassion, and repentance. It does this even when main characters in the story violate such values. Also, midway through the movie it is revealed that Dr. Mumford is himself trying to change his life by starting over as a new person in the little town of Mumford. His attempt to change his life, with help from some implied Christian monks, involves some immoral decisions by him, but he tries to rectify those bad decisions eventually. This adds to the feel-good quality of this movie, which is lifted to the heights of feel-goodism by the use of a beautiful, lyrical rock tune by Bob Seger entitled “Till It Shines.”
According to writer and director Kasdan, nearly all of the characters in his movie are trying to reconcile “the person that we feel we’re supposed to be, with the person inside who has all kinds of drives and desires and weaknesses.” One of Dr. Mumford’s patients, however, is married to the one true villain in the piece, the financier played by Ted Danson. There’s a vague indication that the financier may be cheating on his troubled wife, who tries to compete with her husband’s materialism by buying lots and lots of merchandise from mail order companies and retail outlets. Instead of showing Dr. Mumford trying to heal this marriage, and/or the sins of the people involved, Kasdan’s movie shows the wife getting together with another troubled patient of Dr. Mumford’s after she kicks out her husband when he disappears for a whole week.
Finally, although MUMFORD is a great feel-good movie, with some positive moral qualities throughout, it has enough foul language, sexual content and nudity to earn it an R-rating. This objectionable material is completely gratuitous as well as relatively brief. Despite the brevity, this content will frustrate and offend morally discerning people. Also, Dr. Mumford’s treatments for his patients are man-centered, hence godless. This contradicts Jesus Christ’s moral advice in Matthew 6:33 to seek, above everything else, the supervision and righteousness of God in our lives. Of course, the best way to do that, is to repent from your sins, believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, welcome the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, and follow God’s moral teachings in the Bible.
Thus, MUMFORD remains a problematic work. It really is a shame that Hollywood keeps undermining its own efforts to give the audience a taste of its relatively innocent Golden Age of Yesteryear. Some filmmakers are not only hurting America and the rest of the world with sleaze and vulgarity; they are also harming the bottom line of its financial backers – profits. MOVIEGUIDE’s publisher, Dr. Ted Baehr’s, annual Report to the Entertainment Industry has proven this fact time and time again.
Mild humanist worldview of one man helping other people through his own efforts, in a God-less manner, with some pagan elements, a redemptive element regarding repentence from drugs, sex, meanness, & adultery that is helped by implied Christian monks, & strong romantic & moral elements; 24 mostly strong obscenities including several "s" & "f" words, 6 mild profanities & 2 strong profanities (1 GD & 1 profane use of Jesus), plus some discussion of sexuality & several mild vulgarities; mild violence; implied & depicted sexual situations such as man leaves promiscuous & adulterous life behind, from which audience sees brief flashback images, & fake plastic female hips move in obscene fashion; upper male & female nudity in briefly depicted sexual situations & in one depicted dream, plus verbal reference to oral sex & psychology patient has fixation with women's breasts in tight-fitting clothes; alcohol use; smoking, man shown abusing cocaine in extended flashback & discussion of drug use; Zen Buddhism, a false religion, mentioned once as a possibly valid belief system; some ambiguous, mild anti-Capitalism; and, lying, fraud, materialism, promiscuity, & references to pop psychology phrase "Find the need and fill it," but most of these are rebuked implicitly & often explicitly.