Director William Teitler and screenwriter Nancy Doyne (adapting her own book) have a dynamite premise with “Bad Therapy.” A couples therapist (Michaela Watkins) catering to upper-crust Angelenos isn’t just bad at her job, she’s downright devious.
But a promising premise can only take a film so far.
“Bad Therapy” lambastes a silly, stereotypical side of L.A., populated with Westside moms who strive to rid themselves of their careers, popping pills to relax and outsourcing their marriage issues to couples counseling. But it seems like Teitler and Doyne don’t really know where to come down on their protagonists, Susan (Alicia Silverstone) and Bob (Rob Corddry) Howard. Are they a pair of clueless naïfs taken in by every huckster in town, or are they greedy, feckless airheads who can’t think for themselves? They’re somewhere in the middle, which makes it very hard to know whether we should love, hate or root for the two.
Feeling a general sense of malaise in her newish marriage to Rob and desperately trying to keep up with her fabulous friend Roxy (Aisha Tyler), Susan seeks out couples therapist Judy Small (Watkins), whose methods are even more suspicious than her advice. Soon we realize Judy has a skeleton or two in her closet, having already been run out of town for malpractice, and soon, a former mentor (David Paymer) is hot on her heels.
A dark, psychopathic therapist with all kinds of ulterior motives and nefarious intentions for her clients is a fun character sketch, and Watkins does the most with what she’s given (all the actors do). With the aid of some black patent leather pumps and a sinister score, her Bad Therapist character becomes a truly entertaining and unpredictable twist on the femme fatale. As the film turns toward black comedy, mystery and horror, away from social mocking, it becomes far more compelling.
But it would be a lot easier to buy “Bad Therapy” and the events that unfurl if Susan or Bob had any kind of distinctive traits or consistency. Silverstone applies a harried sense of confused anxiety to Susan, while Corddry plays Bob as an unmotivated and easily suggestible pushover. The only character who feels grounded is Susan’s teen Louise (Anna Pniowsky), one of the realest 13-year-olds to appear onscreen in a long time.
While there’s a spark of intrigue to the concept of “Bad Therapy,” it’s too broad and shallow and never pursues its furthest, most outrageous ends. Ultimately, it’s just not worth psychoanalyzing.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Available April 17 on VOD