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Alan Rudolph has come out, again, a winner with this taut dramatic
comedy. The screen play by Craig Lucas, and based on a Jane Smiley's
book, is a story about what happens to a married couple that is
overwhelmed with the daily wear and tear of their suburban boredom.
David Hurst discovers at the very beginning of the film that his wife might be having an extra marital affair. The only problem is, he never gets to know who this person is that his wife, Dana, is seeing on the sly. All appearances point out to the fact that his dentist wife, has found someone that satisfies her more than the good husband.
Now, is it real, or is Dave seeing things? It's very easy to think that yes, Dana is cheating on her husband, yet, we never get any conclusive evidence this is so.
The wife, evidently, in this marriage is overwhelmed by her own life. She has her own practice as a dentist; she is a full fledged mother with three little girls that are showing signs of collective neurosis at a very early age in life, and she is an member of the chorus of the local opera company, which consumes all the free time she has.
Therefore, Dana's relationship with Dave suffers as they don't communicate. We never see them confronting what's wrong with their marriage, or what's driving them apart. Dave never has the courage to question Dana about her odd behavior. He is a coward who would rather keep a status quo and would never question the wife he clearly adores. There is a hidden drama between these two that never comes out in the open at all. It is a miracle they have stayed together for as long as they have since by all apparent reasons, this marriage should have been over a long, long time ago.
Campbell Scott is an actor whose face registers all the emotions this David Hurst is feeling without much effort. His take on this dentist is so incredible that one feels he is the real dentist at all times. One wouldn't mind going to him for a root canal, or any dental problem, as you know he is a decent person, even when he treats the patient from hell, Dennis Leary, at the beginning of the film.
Hope Davis is perfection herself in her approach to Dana. She is the mother of the three troubled little girls, as well as the wife of Dave. She hasn't enough time to pursue all she wants in life. Maybe she married David for the wrong reasons; perhaps she should have left this situation a long time ago. Who knows what's on her mind? Ms Davis is a fine actress who always delivers. In the hands of Alan Rudolph she is at the top of her form.
The three little Hurst girls are fine as the daughters of Dave and Dana and Dennis Leary is excellent as Dave's conscience in a very subtle role that he makes it his own.
First of all, the casting was excellent. This was a difficult script to
cast. The story and the characters are what they are. There are two
dentists (husband & wife): dentistry like accounting has its stereotypes,
but these characters as acted are "type."
The film is about marriage, and the preservation of family in the face of imperfection, disappointment, disillusionment, and reality. Family is good, but difficult. Marriage can be good, but is always challenging.
This story is as long and ponderous as the trials of life. The narration is great, with originality - especially for the brand of story. The subject matter is depicted with monstrous understanding. Only someone who hasn't struggled with glints of success through most of the parts of family and marriage, might not find understanding.
Comedy is rarely so genuine, and the humanity of this work is pervasive. 'Lives of Dentists' is not going to change society, but it may help a few marriages to re-evaluate, and a few families to re-connect.
2003 wasn't a particularly great year for film: although there were a few
diamonds in the rough (see Kill Bill, The Station Agent, and Lost in
Translation), for the most part, mainstream releases were nothing more than
glorifications of the Hollywood blockbuster formula. So I suppose it comes
as no surprise that Alan Rudolph's terrific film, The Secret Lives of
Dentists, practically slipped by unnoticed -- not only by audiences, but by
critics and award ceremonies as well. What a shame. While it isn't a
spectacular film per se, The Secret Lives of Dentists is a fine example of a
film-maker who tried something different and -- for the most part --
succeeded. David (Campbell Scott) and Dana Hurst (Hope Davis) are married
dentists trying to form a functional family with their three daughters, and
David eventually cracks under the pressure and develops an alter-ego
(incarnated by Denis Leary -- not the person I would pick to be MY Tyler
Durden, but whatever). The movie is very subtle -- even for an independent
picture -- but it works: as the Hursts' marriage gradually crumbles under
scrutiny, director Rudolph doesn't hammer us over the head with cliches.
David begins to suspect that Dana is having an affair, but unlike other
family dramas -- which would boil down the situation to the point where it's
just a husband trying to catch his wife in the act --, Rudolph deals with
the issue in relation to the rest of David's life, rather than just the
present: David can't bring himself to uncover the truth about Dana for fear
that it would destroy their relationship (or what's left of it), and so
every action he takes is essentially a procrastination of confrontation.
While not wise on David's behalf, this is a very smart move for Rudolph. He
builds up immense tension throughout the film and only releases enough to
keep us from dying of anxiety; by the time it's all over, we feel as if the
Hursts' story is still unfinished. Screenwriter Craig Lucas (who adapted the
script from a novel by Jane Smiley) has created two characters that have a
life beyond the restraints of the film's running time, and he has done it
masterfully. His script is marvelously low-key, making us laugh at the most
unlikely moments and moving us in unexpected ways. Campbell Scott is equally
slight in his performance, creating a passive-aggressive character we can't
help but sympathize with, but Hope Davis (who received an Independent Spirit
Award nod for the film) is the true standout: she brings her grace and
complexity to a role that we might have otherwise seen as an enemy to the
protagonist. Leary plays himself, so whether or not he's good is purely
dependent on the viewer, but the least you could say is that he picked a
decent movie for once. Add a wonderfully bizarre soundtrack (featuring a
unique rendition of the Velvet Underground's "I Found a Reason" by Cat
Power) and Rudolph's quirky direction, and you have an unexpected winner of
a film. As I said before, The Secret Lives of Dentists isn't a great movie,
but it's something perhaps even better: noteworthy. Either way, the next
time I go to get my teeth cleaned, I won't be able to keep myself from
wondering what my dentist does on the weekends.
THE SECRET LIFE OF DENTISTS (2003) ***1/2 Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary, Robin Tunney, Gianna Beleno, Cassidy Hinkle, Lydia Jordan. Filmmaker Alan Rudolph plumbs the depths of dark social comedy with this ingenious adaptation of Jane Smiley's novel 'The Age of Grief' with a skillful screenplay by playwright Craig Lucas about a reasonably happily married couple (Scott and Davis at career highs here showcasing his trademark cerebral comic capabilities and her patented chilly brittleness) whose dental practice together serves a razor-sharp metaphor for their suddenly troubled relationship when the seed of doubt is planted by the assumption of Scott that Davis is having an affair only to be manipulated by his over-active imagination imbued by an alter ego he sees in the form of a sarcastic patient (Leary doing some of his snappy disgruntled shtick to full effect) who allows his blacker sides to show. Family life has never been more keenly observed in this funny and surprisingly poignant look at how marriage can be a true test of faith in a complacent lifestyle of empty fulfillment. Has the feel of a latter day John Cheever parable of suburban hell. Point of interest, this film re-unites the protagonist trio from Scott's experimental film 'Final' a year ago.
The American Dream of the dentist David Hurst (Campbell Scott) is
complete: he is married with his sweetheart from the dental school, the
also dentist Dana (Hope Davis) that works with him and is an aspirant
opera singer; he has three lovely daughters; he lives in a very
comfortable house; and he has his own business. David is presently
treating the troubled blunt musician Slater (Denis Leary), having a
complicated relationship with his client. When David glances his wife
in the backstage of the theater before a presentation of Nabucco, he
sees a man caressing her and he imagines she is having an affair. The
repressed David becomes mentally ill and uses Slater as his alter-ego
to express his anger while fantasizing the relationship of his wife and
fighting to keep his marriage.
"The Secret Life of the Dentists" is an original and refreshing movie about the common crisis of long-term marriage. The story is centered in the thoughts of the character of Campbell Scott, who is suspicious of his wife and imagines his world and the American Dream falling apart if his beloved unfaithful wife leaves him. The character of his wife is only passive, keeping the mystery of her behavior until the excellent and never corny conclusion. This film is recommended for mature audiences only, otherwise the viewer may not understand the feelings and behavior of the two lead characters. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "A Vida Secreta dos Dentistas" ("The Secret Life of the Dentists")
There's a dark cloud that hangs over this film..an inevitabilty that we want not to believe,but deep in our hearts (as in Scott's)know is true. The troubles with facing this is excellently realized in this character drama about husband and wife dentists who share a practice. Their marriage is a conundrum in that they don't want to release what they have yet can not communicate the situation that is obviously lingering. She shows all the signs of a woman cheating and still the husband will not concede to it. He truly loves her and won't let go of that no matter how much this fact luminates over the marriage. Their three children are always around(and which I believe only enhances this film since most films only want the children to shadow the husband/wife relationship). This where Campbell Scott and Hope Davis truly excell..they provide real,thoughtful,and believable performances in the roles of the husband and wife. Where this movie really blooms is when Scott begins to dream up Denis Leary(almost a thought process that hangs on him like a leach)..a patient he did dental work on. Leary is the part of your thoughts that tells you(like the viewer probably feels also)what instincts normally convey. If his thoughts would have won over,Scott would have popped the sad question of wanting to know if his wife was having an affair at the near beginning of this film. But Scott tends to ignore what Leary(or thoughts..which ever you prefer)says and follows the undying devotion to his children(which Scott does with accuracy as if he really was the father to these kids)and..yep wife. The children,also,evolve and add to the story as they momentarily get both husband and wife to ignore the pains ripping them apart as flu enters into their lives. This film isn't one that will be liked by all. It's just so character driven and doesn't sustain to a normal plot heading. I liked it,thought it had a grasp on what it wanted to point out..that divorce isn't always the alternative when two people drift apart. ****1/2/*****
This film is a gem, quiet and powerful modern masterpiece that deals
with the marriage in crisis. Shifting seamlessly from humor to drama,
from reality to the imagination and back, the movie is a stylish,
compelling and very intelligent work of a sophisticated and remarkable
filmmaker. There are not many films that explore the quiet desperation
of a family's crisis (or should I say any relationship's crisis) with
such honesty, poignancy, and subtlety. Alan Rudolph masterfully
explores the mysterious connection between two people, the ability to
deal with its possible loss, and the secret longings in all of us.
Campbell Scott is very impressive as an introvert Dr. David Hurst. He does not say much in the film but we feel all emotions he goes through - love, fear to lose it, anger, desperation, depression, and confusion. Hope Davis, Dennis Leary and three young girls all gave great performances.
I just saw this movie last night, and I thought it was absolutely compelling. A perfect example of that rare Hollywood movie that actually uses "show and tell", instead of car chases and hit you over the head non-reality. I ached with each facial expression of anger, fear and doubt. I can see how a lot of people would not like this movie. I think because it is slow, subtle, and full of nuances, it may be more to a woman's liking. Maybe the fact that I've been married for 25 years, I can relate to the realistic portrayals. The actors were stellar, especially Campbell Scott and the three little girls that played his children. I became very attached to this family, and wanted them to stay together no matter what, which I think was the point of the movie. Marriage is not just sweetness and light or happy endings, but the making of memories good and bad,the struggles and triumphs, and the commitment it takes to making family dynamics work for the benefit of all. Quite frankly, I just can't stop thinking about this movie, which for me, is the greatest compliment of all.
First of all, the front page review for this movie makes me wonder if
the person actually watched the film. Or perhaps s/he got up to get
some popcorn during an especially critical scene, but we definitely do
find out whether or not David (Campbell Scott) is correct is in belief
that Dana (Hope Davis) is having an affair.
Secondly, this was a good, honest character driven movie. I was shocked at the low overall score, and I wonder whether most moviegoers these days lack the patience or attention span required to sit through a film whose sole purpose is to take the audience on a tour through the characters' relationships and private hopes, fears, and desires. There is virtually no action (in the typical Hollywood sense), no flash, and no monumental act of god or nature that is meant to shock. Instead, this is a film that all of us should be able to relate to on the most simple, human levels. It examines those day to day pieces of life that we take for granted, but which quietly take their toll. Perhaps the most profound line in the film is when Davis' character tells her husband that she expected their marriage to "get wider...but instead it just got smaller." The film reminded me a lot of another character-driven film about misunderstandings, dysfunctional relationships, and the inability to communicate: "You Can Count on Me." Both films are deeply intelligent, and both require their audiences to be as open and honest in what they allow themselves to get from the film as the movie is in giving it. In a nutshell, you will get out of this film what you are willing to put in. That being said, it's not for everyone. If you like fast action, melodrama, and lots of flash and glitter, this film is not for you. In you like a contemplative, honest piece of art, check it out.
It's common practice for a film about repression to be somewhat muted in
style and tone. There's a difference, however, between using restraint
encouraging narcolepsy among audience members. In "The Secret Lives of
Dentists," starring Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, director Alan Rudolph
plays as close to the vest as possible, with the result being a film that
never amounts to much beyond a rumination on how teeth are a metaphor for
Scott gives a fine performance in the role of David Hurst, a dentist married to another dentist (Davis). Rudolph sets up the dynamic of their relationship quickly - he is completely absorbed in the day-to-day duties of being the parenthood, she is quietly disillusioned with their frantic family life - and then ratchets up the tension when Scott may or may not witness his wife with another man. From this point on, the film focuses on whether or not David is going to confront his wife Dana about her possible adultery, or whether she will beat him to the punch and leave for good. From time to time, David is treated to visits from an imaginary "friend" in the form of a former patient played by Denis Leary (borrowing heavily from Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden in "Fight Club").
While there is enough uncertainty about Dana's infidelity and David's instability to warrant examination, the last two thirds of the film are embarrassingly empty of theme or narrative. Instead, Rudolph creates drama out of a nasty fever that travels slowly through the Hurst family, culminating in a pointless hospital visit at the film's climax. The film never picks up on the hints at what David is really capable of if he wasn't so dedicated to his family; neither does it spend much time looking at Dana's precarious balancing act between her family life and her other, more fulfilling ambitions.
By choosing to spend the majority of the film worrying over a fever gone awry, Rudolph kills the momentum of his film. By the time the fifth member of the family shows up sweating and sickly, the film has used up all the good graces of Scott's well-measured performance. David and Dana end up retracing their steps over and over again until a less than cathartic finale. With nothing to build on over the last hour, the conclusion seems awkward and patched-on. "The Secret Lives of Dentists" takes a common theme and does nothing to improve upon it. Altogether, a disappointing, unimaginative film.
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