2002
Rated: R for adult language, violence, adult themes, and strong sexual content.
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Alan Rudolph
Running Time: 1:44
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 9/26/04
DVD Features:
Gag Reel
Audio Commentary - 1. Alan Rudolph - Director
Featurette -1. Sundance Channel's Anatomy of a Scene
Deleted Scenes
THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS

 


Slater: These children are monsters, they should be struck... can I hit them?
David: No.

In "The Secret Lives of Dentists" we get a glimpse at the life of a dentist, the title is in a sense alluding to a life of a dentist no one really sees, the life of a dentist, a person who people fear once they sit on the chair preparing for a check up, he's the person, as character Slater says, everyone hates and no one wants to know because all they want to do is sit down get their work done and get the fuck out.

David, played by a serene Campbell Scott, is the very passive dentist who follows his usual daily mundane routines and is always enveloped in his career, and when he returns home is very enveloped in the raising of his three daughters, one of whom clings to him like an extra limb and refuses to acknowledge her mother, David takes all of his workaday boring activities in stride and is very focused, his wife Dana, however isn't given the attention she desires though it looks as if David tries.

He is almost always disciplining his children and Dana is an aspiring theater actress and singer. One night on a big performance of hers in the city, David unexpectedly catches Dana kissing another man as he approaches her, and doesn't confront her, yet goes about his business focused and trying to register what he's just seen, he knows this suspected affair will change things but is he upset because she's seeing another man, or because it will break his daily routines? That's a question the story begs to ask its audience, and I was entertained because this gives us something to do while watching.

So, David is surprisingly unaffected. He's not angry, he's barely hurt, and though he really suspects she's seeing someone else, he's completely unaffected. The telltale signs are present, she's wearing more make up, dressing up, going away for long periods of time, and is being less affectionate towards David, yet he continues about his activities imagining very funny scenarios of Dana's affairs being fondled by mysterious men, engaging in threesomes, his eventual confrontation with her asking "When you kick someone out, do you really kick them out, or do you kick them?" so David continues tolerating Dana's hints which are so blatant that we ultimately realize it's really an attempt to open the lines of communication David doesn't really want to enter, but again, the story asks us the tricky question that keeps coming back, is he afraid to confront her because of what may happen, or because he's afraid to ruin his daily routines?

Campbell Scott gives a very good performance here with David, who is a very passive forgiving man who is very used to his life of mundane activities including doing the house work and disciplining his daughters while his wife is off at work. David also engages in a very torturous profession where he also gets little respect but he seems to let it all go tolerating his daughters' lack of discipline, respect and their utter refusal to acknowledge him as an authority figure. Leary gives a very good performance here playing Slater, a polar opposite to David who seems to mouth off, and possesses a will of sheer charisma, an outward sense of fashion and outspoken attitude.

At one point when a filling falls from Slater's mouth, he confronts the doctor in the middle of a theater aloud while David merely tolerates his attitude and goes about his business unaffected. After his character exits the story, his presence remains and the writers do a rather brilliant thing as Leary's character becomes a figment of David's imagination symbolizing David's suppressed rage, anger, and lack of emotional outbursts. In a sense
Slater becomes David's conscious, his Mr. Hyde guiding him to independence and in slamming down the iron fist on his household he should have done a long time ago ultimately gaining David respect from his children, and fear from his wife, at one point after complaining about his young daughter's excessive slapping of his face, he finally loses it and punishes her much to the surprise of his wife Dana. Slater meanwhile taunts and teases David throughout the story and becomes his second half telling him what to do and David, willing to change out of his usual life of routine, and willingness to tolerate his wife's crap, gives in and begins turning heads with daring attitudes, his sudden threatening nature, and a more disciplinary attitude that surprises his family.

Dana, played by the always good, always likable Hope Davis is a woman who wants more than the routine David is so comfortable with, she wants more, yet somehow David won't listen, whether or not it's unintentional is left unanswered, but she seeks it through other facets. Davis is really good here, as she always is, and it's a shame she hasn't quite become a mainstream property because she's a really interesting character here with a lot of depth but her attempts to break routines aren't really to be hurtful, but to possibly get through to David.

So, in enters a long scene where everyone in the family begins getting the flu, it's a string of events that forces the family to come together and help each other out, and we get to discover if the flu will break David's visions of Slater, or not. Does she act on her affair? Does David confront her? That's for you to discover, and this film which analyzes marriage with such an apt attitude and comical fashion makes this very much worth seeing and one really good film.

There was a time during the second half of the film where I felt it was attempting to be weird, just for the sake of being weird which is never ever a good thing. Halfway through the film as the family progresses into the flu, David has this very odd somewhat really annoying hallucination involving Robin Tunney's character and Leary's character singing "You Give Me Fever" while relatively freaking the character of David out which led me to furrow my brow with confusion asking why is a film that deals with infidelity and an unhappy marriage engaging in a very stupid, and odd sequence, but there was just no plain reason I could think of. Other than that, if the film had been a little more funny and twisted this might have been an excellent piece of work, but had it approached marriage with a sick cynicism as "American Beauty" did, this could have been up to those standards and worth watching repeatedly, but with Leary as an evil persona, this had a lot of potential for sick comedy that they never went through with thus wasting Leary's true comedic abilities, his knack for screaming and belting mile a minute insults.

Though it does get a little overly weird for the purposes of weird in the middle, this is really a good film, and a profound study of lack of communication in a marriage with some great performances from Scott, Davis, and Leary.

 

 

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