Published February 1, 1999
Analyze This, directed by Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), stars Robert DeNiro as Paul Vitti, a notorious New York mobster who suddenly finds he’s having panic attacks. He thinks they’re heart attacks. When the doctor tells him that they are in fact psychosomatic, he is incredulous: “Do I look like a guy who panics?”
The doctor feebly protests, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” but of course it is something to be ashamed of in Vitti’s world, and he and his lovably thuggish bodyguard, Jelly (Joseph Viterelli) proceed to beat the doctor up. Of this collision between a traditional, masculine culture based on honor and the contemporary, feminine therapeutic culture there is much comedy to be made, and Ramis does a great job of extracting it. We can see this from the beginning in which an old don sums up the bewildering present by speaking of “made guys informing for the feds. . . bosses in jail. . .guys getting whacked without permission. . .the Chinese and the crazy Russians. Times are changing,” he says sadly, “and we got to change with them.”
Vitti says: “What do you want? We should get a f****** web-site?”
Most of the comedy results from Vitti’s various consultations with Dr Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), which begin with Vitti and Jelly arriving unexpectedly at the psychiatrist’s office and telling the patient in situ that his appointment is over. Sobel had just been telling this guy, “Carl, you settle too easily for things.”
“You’re right. I do,” says Carl.
But when Vitti and Jelly burst in and tell him to get lost and fob him off with $100, he holds out for $300 and then exults to the doctor about how far he’s come. It is a good example of the film’s complex and rapid-fire comedy. The jokes seem to explode from every corner of the screen simultaneously, and yet there is always a semi-serious side to them, as the honor culture pokes through the blanket of psychobabble to make fun of some of the absurdities of both, as when Vitti agrees to be treated but with this caveat: “If I talk to you and you turn me into a fag, I’m going to f****** kill you.” Perhaps the best joke comes when Sobel tries to explain about his subject’s Oedipal feelings. “You think I want to f*** my mother?” says Vitti, making one of his mobster faces. “That’s disgusting! Have you ever seen my mother?”
“No, no,” says Sobel, trying to explain. “It’s a primal urge. It’s in everybody. It’s named after this Greek king who killed his father and slept with his mother.”
“F****** Greeks!” says Vitti.
At one point the film ventures so far as to as to suggest a reversal of roles between the two when Vitti has a panic attack while he and the doctor find themselves under fire from a rival gang. As the bullets rain around them, Sobel frantically says: “They’re shooting! Pull yourself together!” Finally he says, “give me the f****** gun,” and starts shooting himself. Later he has to go to a meeting of the mob families pretending to be Vitti’s new consigliere. But in the end the conflict is too easily resolved in favor of the therapeutic culture, as Vitti proudly announces that as a result of a “corrective emotional experience” (we don’t use the word “cure”) “I’m in a good place and I’m feeling good about me.”
This leaves the psychiatrist and the complementary absurdities of his worldview rather up in the air. Also Lisa Kudrow as Sobel’s fiancée and Kyle Sahiby as his son have too little to do. There is a feeble attempt to milk what little comedic juice is left out of the enraged bride/ruined wedding trope, as one of Vitti’s would-be assassins is flung from a seven story balcony and lands in the smoked salmon just as she is about to plight her troth with Sobel in an outdoor, Miami Beach wedding. But this takes us away from the subject and would have been better left out. Analyze This is, nevertheless, a howlingly funny movie that I strongly recommend. But I think that, for truth to be served, Vitti’s disgust with his own tendency to burst into tears—“Slap a pair of tits on me and I’m a woman,” he cries—should have been taken not as a quaintly Neanderthal attitude but at least as seriously as the claims of psycho-therapy.