Harrison Ford has for decades reigned unchallenged as cinema’s grumpiest A-lister. No sooner had he set aside his Indiana Jones bullwhip and the range of (inter)stellar jackets he sported as Han Solo than he calcified into a crabby caricature of himself. And so he has remained – a gruff holdover from the era when movie stars were not required to be likable.
It is in this guise that Ford makes his streaming debut, at the age of 80. And it says something about the ineffectiveness of Shrinking (Apple TV+, from today) that he is by far the best thing in it. The funniest and most charming, too, though perhaps that’s because he’s up against Jason Segel playing – not for the first time – a flailing man-baby stunned to discover life is not always fair.
Segel is Jimmy, a widower who uses the death of his wife as an excuse to inflict his infantilism upon the world. (There are echoes of Ricky Gervais in the appalling Afterlife.) The wrinkle is that he is also a psychoanalyst. All day long he listens to other people’s problems. But – oh, the irony – the one person he cannot make better is himself.
Jimmy is unravelling. He’s up all night partying with sex workers while playing Billy Joel at maximum volume. (Only one of these things is acceptable in polite company.)
He is also supposedly raising his teenage daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell), but it’s a task he outsources to his neighbour Liz (Christa Miller). This is by any measure a gross abdication of parental responsibility. Shrinking encourages us to view it as an adorable cry for help from a bro in trouble.
Jimmy is likewise given the benefit of the doubt in his dealings with Sean (Luke Tennie), an Afghan veteran with PTSD issues. Sean has anger-management problems – he will beat you to a pulp for looking at him the wrong way – yet, rather than helping his patient, Jimmy enables him by encouraging him to vent at the gym.
He’s also responsible for Sean losing his temper in public when a row breaks out at a school soccer match featuring Jimmy’s daughter. He ought to be struck off. Instead Sean moves in with Jimmy, and they become each other’s coping mechanism.
The saving grace is Ford, as Jimmy’s boss, Paul. He may be in his ninth decade, but he retains the hangdog charisma of his prime and completely overshadows the flailing Segel. Whenever Ford is on screen Shrinking grows that bit taller. He brings gravity and dry wit to a psychobabble script that asks us to see grief as a problem to be solved rather than, as it is, a journey with no clear destination.
The good news is that Ford is only getting warmed up. He’s back in the summer in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Can a dial have a sense of destiny? Let’s find out!) Judging by Shrinking, the craggy matinee idol is a long way from done. But in every other way this is a trite mix of self-help podcast and puerile comedy, both drippy and disposable.