Review, Salisbury Post: Coffee Therapy is a self-medicating romp into the pysche

By Marvin Lindsay

Special to The Salisbury Post

“Coffee Therapy,” written and directed by Salisbury’s Sam Post, tells the story of Darnell Shacklebee, proprietor of a coffee shop in a small southern city.

When a psychotherapist convention comes to town, Darnell finds himself serving all his old counselors. Each prompts a trip down memory lane for Darnell, although none of his former analysts seem to remember him.

Is it enough to like a movie because it’s shot in your hometown? Sure!

It tickled me to see Escape the Daily Grind and Temple Israel in a full-length film. If you read John Hart’s “The King of Lies” and squealed “I know where that is!” when Work had to take the Ellis Street bridge to avoid a train, then you’ll like “Coffee Therapy” for the same reason.

There’s more to like than the setting. When you think “neurotic, male film star with jazz music soundtrack,” Woody Allen instantly comes to mind. When you think “neurotic, small town, southern man,” Don Knotts has to be near the top of the list.

Post and actor Hank West combined these strangest of bedfellows in the character of Darnell, an anxious, bug-eyed fellow who’d rather be on the couch than anyplace else.

Darnell is passive, socially awkward and prone to sticking his foot in his mouth. He needs help. But can you blame him? His family — two precocious, stuck-up siblings, a histrionic mother and an emotionally cut-off father — can’t stand him.

One question the film poses is, What is therapy for? To heal the wounds others have inflicted upon us, or to save us from our own worst enemy, ourselves?

Therapy, as I see it, is of valuable but limited use. It can identify unhealthy thought patterns, uncover the sources of those patterns, and help one learn new ways of thinking and acting.

Does Darnell spend a quarter-century in therapy because he’s looking for something that might best be found elsewhere?

Or maybe Darnell just has a run of bad luck. As he goes from one therapist to the next, just about everything that can go wrong does.

There’s a nasty episode of transference. That’s when the therapist (Alice Rich) uses her session with Darnell to work on her problems, not his. One of Darnell’s counselors (Mary Ann McCubbin) keeps falling asleep during his sessions. Is she bored to death, or does she suffer from sleep apnea? Either way, Darnell deserves a refund, even if he is being seen on a sliding scale.

Darnell finally quits the counseling merry-go-round when he finds a therapist who prescribes him medication and talks to him about his hobbies, not his problems.

Of course, the family takes it badly that their son is “mentally ill,” but as Darnell puts it, “Dr. Ross (Darryl Casper) brought me out of the dark shadows of psychotherapy, and into the bright sunshine of psychopharmacology.”

“Coffee Therapy” is a comedy, but it’s also a lament. It’s regrettable that stigma still shrouds mental illness. It’s lamentable that affordable, competent counseling is so hard to find. After I watched the film with some friends, we wondered if the setting, a coffee shop, was merely a set-up, or symbolic of something greater.

I think the latter. Whether it’s the snootiest Starbucks in Seattle, or the grimiest diner along the interstate, we’re all on meds, and we’re all in therapy.

Caffeine is a drug. It’s a relatively mild one, but we who find the courage to face the day at the bottom of a cup of warmed over Folgers have no right to disdain those who have been saved from suicide, jail or bankruptcy by something stronger. Besides, just imagine all the damage we’ve done practicing therapy without a license, hammering our friends over a cappuccino with hackneyed moralisms in the guise of “good advice,” none of which has been vetted in a peer-reviewed journal! Should we be surprised that some people need more competent counsel?

My one reservation about the movie is its pacing. I would have liked to have seen some of the memory sequences tightened up a bit. At times, it felt as though I’d gotten lost in a movie within a movie rather than accompanying Darnell on a flashback triggered by seeing one of his old therapists.

Some scenes could have been fleshed out better.

Early on, Darnell imagines what a great idea it would be to have a client convention in the same city as the therapist convention.

The former group could interview would-be counselors about their therapeutic techniques.

It’s a good scene, but I was left with the feeling that the concept hadn’t been fully plumbed for its comedic depth.

But those are minor reservations.

“Coffee Therapy” features a great ensemble cast of local talent. With sullen stares and sighs, Beth Porter has the world-weary teenage barista down pat in her role as Nellie. Kurt Corriher is creepy and hilarious as Dr. Blazer, a womanizer whose do-it-yourself approach to counseling is as cheap as his aftershave.

Coffee Therapy is playing this weekend at Escape the Daily Grind, 118 N. Main St. Tickets are $5. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursday, 10:30 p.m. Friday, and 8 p.m. Saturday. Contains mature language and situations.

If you’d like to laugh at others’ foibles and at your own crooked journey toward self-awareness, see the movie. And if you see Sam Post, buy him a mocha latte and say thanks.

Marvin Lindsay is pastor of John Calvin Presbyterian Church. contact him at avdat@bellsouth.net and visit his blog at marvinlindsay.typepad.com/avdat.

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