Film Reviews

THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS

By • Aug 1st, 2003 •

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Released by Manhattan Pictures Int’l
Rated R / Running time: 104 min

Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee, but Dentists—well, that’s another story. Pity those poor benignly maligned professionals. They just don’t get no respect—that is unless you have a toothache. In fact, they hardly have a good word for each other—or, as one of the actors remarks: “No dentist has ever had anything good to say about another dentist’s work!”

True or not, this bias carries over into their home life. They’re often perceived as staid, dyed-in-the-wool dullards who’d rather paint the kitchen wall than paint the town red. But be forewarned. SECRET LIVES does little to dispel that impression.

Thoreau said it best: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And so goes this thoughtful film’s central character, a dentist at a crossroads in his marriage.

The Plot: Husband-and-wife dentists (Scott and Davis) share an office and 3 young daughters. Frankly, there’s rarely any bite or excitement in their off-hours: he’s rooted in root canals and family chores, she’s into amateur opera. But he suspects she might be into something more lowbrow—when he glimpses her backstage, passionately embracing a guy before her musical debut.

Is she or isn’t she (cheating on him)? Is he cuckoo or a cuckold? More importantly, does he bite the bullet and confront her with his suspicions? Anally retentive, he doesn’t. Nor can he get a clue from his equally closed-mouth wife (it’s like pulling teeth) who sits or lies in bed, passively on both counts. Instead, he spends much of the film sparring with Slater (Denis Leary), suffused with vitriol and verbal diarrhea, who randomly turns up as his imaginary alter-ego. Serving as both catalyst and Greek chorus, it’s Slater who airs the thoughts this despairing spouse is too inhibited and repressed to utter.

The Bad News: The fault, dear Brutus, lies not with the stars, but with Alan Rudolph’s lukewarm direction of Craig Lucas’ equally tepid script. Nothing much happens as the plot plods along, with the dolorous couple mired in the doldrums of their dreary daily doings. They’re so emotionally repressed, they’ve practically flatlined.

The Good News: Flawed as it is, you’ll be floored by the performances. Campbell Scott, coming off his NBR award-winning role in ROGER DODGER, Hope Davis from ABOUT SCHMIDT and Dennis Leary from just about anything he’s in. Though the film might sag, they don’t disappoint as they bring an almost unbearable intensity to this genteel, dental saga. It’s a class act.


Cast:
Campbell Scott (David Hurst);
Dennis Leary (Slater);
Robin Tunney (Laura)
Hope Davis (Dana Hurst);
Peter Samuel (Larry);
Jon Patrick Walker (Mark);
Gianna Beleno (Lizzie Hurst);
Lydia Jordan (Stephanie Hurst);
Cassidy Hinkle (Leah Hurst);
Mark Ethan (Conductor)

Credits:
Directed by Alan Rudolph;.
Screenplay by Craig Lucas;
based on the novella
“The Age of Grief” by Jane Smiley.
Cinematographer: Florian Ballhaus;
Editor: Andy Keir;
Prod. Design: Ted Glass;
Music: Gary DeMichele;
Music Supervisor: Jonathan McHugh.
Producers: Campbell
Scott, George VanBuskirk.

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