Secret Lives of Dentists, The (USA; 105min.)

directed by: Alan Rudolph
starring: Campbell Scott; Hope Davis; Dennis Leary; Robin Tunney
The Secret Lives of Dentists
Diane says: "Great perfs by Scott Campbell and Hope Davis; I loved the ambivalence of the ending." 4 cats
Esme says: "I caught this one the other night. I don't have that much to say about it. The intentionally jaw-clenching 'dentist office visit' shots were effective on me. The story of the troubled marriage between the protagonists was compelling but not inventive or new in any way." 3 cats
Georgette says: "THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS tells the story of a husband (Campbell Scott) and wife (Hope Davis), both dentists who share a practice and a marriage that is falling apart. Slater (Denis Leary) is a new patient whose wife has just left him, which makes his surly temperament just a little more confrontational. His rant about how dentists always criticize and try to redo the previous dentist's work
was very funny and there was a wave of recognition in the audience.

"As Dave (Scott) realizes that his wife is probably having an affair, he knows that if he acknowledges the affair, then tough decisions have to be made, and he's not ready to do that. While the fabric of the family structure starts to unravel, the flu makes its way through the family, which is a perfect device for Dave to hallucinate conversations with Slater ('C'mon, just leave the wife and kids and go on tour with me and the band') and his children, who know something is going on and act out against mommy.

"There isn't a weak performance in the film. The actors are perfectly cast and do a great job with a darkly funny script. Alan Rudolph has another winner with this one." 4 cats

Laura says: "David (Campbell Scott, ROGER DODGER) and Dana (Hope Davis, ABOUT SCHMIDT) Hurst share a dental practice, a solid marriage, three young girls and a home in suburban Westchester. On the eve of Dana's debut in an amateur Verdi production, David inadvertently spies her backstage in the arms of another man. As Dana's infidelity manifests itself in her actions and is reflected in their children's behavior, Dave withdraws into a fantasy land in THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS.

"Producer/actor Campbell Scott's lengthy struggle to bring author Jane Smiley's The Age of Grief to the screen has paid off with career highs for everyone involved. Exploring some of the same themes as AMERICAN BEAUTY, this film makes that Oscar winner seem pretty superficial in retrospect. THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS is an American masterpiece.

"In their bustling practice, Dave and his assistant Laura (Robin Tunney, THE IN-LAWS) attend to combative trumpeter Slater (Denis Leary, THE REF), a new patient who snidely informs Dave that 'No dentist ever likes another's work,' before having a filling replaced. Dave and Dana have their daily check on who will attend to dinner that evening.

"Caught up in the minutia of everyday life, small strains are evident before Dave's thunderclap of discovery. Youngest daughter Leah (Cassidy Hinkle) wants only Daddy, slapping out against her mother's outstretched arms. As Dave attends to the children at the dinner table, the artistically intellectual Dana attempts to share her joy in Verdi, singing sweetly in the kitchen. She's ignored and we see the hurt in her eyes, her spirit trampled. After Dave learns that Dana might be having an affair, he begins to notice how she overdresses for errands that run on too long, how he picks up dinner more and more often as she comes home late, how she suggests he leave early with the girls for their country home where she'll join them later after catching up with paperwork. She pokes and prods him to speak, but he refuses, afraid that openness will introduce changes he's not willing to accept. He shows his love physically, while his anger builds, spurred on by an imaginary Slater, the match to the fuel of his rage. When a mean bout of the flu lays waste to the family one by one and the last to get sick, middle child Stephanie (Lydia Jordan), reaches a fever of 105.2, the crisis seems to pull the family together, but Dana rebels, forcing David to confront her adultery.

"Scott quietly continues to build an exceptional career as an actor and producer and hopefully his role as David Hurst will finally garner him wide recognition. His emotionally closed dentist articulates his distress in the tightness of his wind, his weak but uncharacteristic questioning, his immersion in child care, his building resentment of house husbandry. The actor seems to age in front of our eyes as he's 'arrived at the age of grief.' Hope Davis is his match as the ethereal intelligent beauty searching for the missing piece of her life. The actress communicates her character's division, how she tries jolt Dave into satisfying her needs. We see how the demands of family life weigh on her as she readjusts her posture before entering the country home. The characters' relationship is symbolized by a flashback of the two, Dave confidently racing down a hill with Dana perched on his bike's handlebars - he likes to keep her a little off balance by having control and the actors' faces convey this beautifully - it's the only time we really see Dave smile while she looks fearful but thrilled. (These flashbacks are beautifully countered in the present when Dana admits to Dave 'You scare me a little. You don't smile and you're tall.')

"Leary's acidic persona is used beautifully as the devil sitting on Dave's shoulder. Director Rudolph (TRIXIE, MRS. PARKER & THE VICIOUS CIRCLE) slowly darkens Slater's appearance so that by the time Slater arrives in Dave's high temp house to trumpet 'Fever' accompanied by a slinky, vamping version of Laura, he's an inky-eyed seducer. Tunney, an undervalued young actress, strongly supports Campbell's story arc. She shows the tiniest hint of unrequited attraction to her boss and is thrown into turmoil when he ardently thanks her for helping with a family situation - she emphasizes Dave's propensity for not seeing what is in front of him.

"Craig Lucas's (LONGTIME COMPANION) adaption and Rudolph's direction perfectly meld reality with Dave's ruminations of memory and fantasy. As Dave strides backstage tribal drums begin and everything slows down, becomes dreamlike. Figures block Dave's view of Dana, rapturous in the arms of another man, splintering his vision, delivering pain with quick jabs. Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (INVESTIGATING SEX) desaturates a reimagining of Dave's that drips with venom - he and the kids accompany her on her errand and she has them drop her off at a stranger's house for 'about twenty minutes,' while true memories of their romance are enveloped in the golden hues of autumn. Ballhaus's camera snakes around the action, in one scene leaving Dave's office to capture both he and his wife lost in thought on either side of their offices' dividing wall - what brings them together also separates them. Rudolph masterfully builds on the small moments that define life, such as in a simple scene where Dave massages out his wife's foot cramp, while using details, like an old movie playing on a bedroom TV set, to comment upon the action. Production designer Ted Glass kept a real home almost intact and preserves the lived in imperfections of a family home.

"The film's final scene ('Are you staying?') is tentative and emotional and ambiguous and hopeful, a perfect wrap up. Rarely does a film cause those visceral adrenaline rushes of recognizing greatness, but THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS brings waves of them. It is the best American film of the year to date and one that will be hard to beat." 5 cats

Michael says: "Rudolph applies his trademark off-beat characters and quirky humor to a Craig Lucas screenplay adapted from a Jane Smiley novella with mixed results. Scott and Davis play a married pair of dentists raising three young daughters. When Scott's Dave suspects his wife of having an affair, his sudden jealousy and odd behavior cause both to examine their hopes and expectations for marriage and how they compare with the reality. While parts of the film shine,particularly the performances by Scott and Davis, and the remarkably adult screenplay from Lucas, parts of the story falls flat, most notably the use of Leary as one of Dave's unpleasant patients who becomes his internal guide." 3 1/2 cats