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DR. T AND THE WOMEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelly Long, Tara Reid, Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler
Director:  Robert Altman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Lionsgate
Features:  See Review
Length:  122 Minutes
Release Date:  August 28, 2007

"Well, if a gynecologist says there's no two alike, I guess there's no two alike!"

Film ***1/2

Think of the worst, most hectic day you've ever had, and chances are, it's better than the day Dr. T has in the last half of this movie.  In fact, the first half seems to exist largely so you won't find the second half implausible!

Dr. T and the Women is another happy collaboration of director Robert Altman and screenwriter Anne Rapp.  This pair seems a match made in heaven; their last work together, Cookie's Fortune, was as charming, winning, and delightful a film as I'd seen in ages.  Rapp brings an intelligent sense of worth to her characters, and manages to derive comedy directly from the characterizations instead of a string of jokes.  And Altman, who has to be considered one of the best ensemble cast directors in film history, seems to fall in love with these people and do right by them over the course of his movie.

In one of his most appealing performances ever, Richard Gere plays Dr. T.  He's a Dallas gynecologist, which, according to director David Cronenberg in regards to his own film Dead Ringers, is the least popular of all roles.  Those who still think so might reconsider after watching Gere:  he plays the good doctor with a sense of warmth and caring that makes him a favorite amongst his many female patients, and a likable person for the audience to latch on to. 

Dr. T is literally surrounded by women…not only at his job, but in his home, where he has a wife (Fawcett) and two twenty-something daughters, Dee Dee and Connie (Hudson and Reid), not to mention, his sister (Dern) and her three daughters, who have all recently moved in with him.  In the opening segments, I couldn't help but chuckle at the juxtaposition of tradition female vs. male scenarios:  the women engage in a spirited shopping trip to the mall, where they fill out their gift registries at Tiffany's and sip champagne.  Dr. T is off with his male friends in full hunting garb, playing a combination of golf and skeet shooting (one player drives the ball, another tries to blast it in midair).  It's as though neither the golf club nor the shotgun was manly enough by itself to ward off all the feminine influence!

Dee Dee is getting married, and Connie seems jealous at first.  She wants to stop the wedding, and tries to hinder it in a couple of funny phone calls (one that takes place while Dee Dee is in cheerleading class, while Connie is doing a JFK tour and pointing out exactly where the president's head was blown apart).  It turns out, her real reason for wanting the wedding stopped is just one of the things that will play into Dr. T's terrible, horrible, no good really bad day.

In the meantime, Dr. T is suffering a personal crisis of his own.  During the aforementioned trip to the mall, his wife seems to lose her mind, ending up naked in the fountain.  The diagnosis?  A Hestia complex, something that theoretically happens to people who are loved and have everything they want…the guilt they feel over it drives them back into a childlike state.  Soon, she starts calling her husband her brother, and it seems that their once happy relationship is doomed.

This leads him unknowingly into a blossoming relationship with Bree (Hunt), a new golf pro at his country club.  He's not looking for a new companion so much as a friend, but complications begin when he starts to fall in love with her.

Thrown into the mix is the never ending barrage of neurotic female patients who wander in and out of his office (which has waiting rooms named after famous Dallas women).  Among them are a bona fide hypochondriac, a woman who insists on smoking in the examining room, and a menopause patient who proudly claims she'll be the best one he's ever treated (which is met with an ovation in the waiting room).  He's always been a good and attentive doctor, but on “the day”, when his world starts crumbling around him, he finds himself not as equipped to deal with them as he once thought!

The movie takes some unexpected turns near the end…without giving too much away, it doesn't follow the safe, well traveled routes of the romantic comedy.  The weather plays a big factor in this film, almost to the point of becoming a character in and of itself in a couple of crucial scenes (and make us wonder whether or not Dr. T is meant to be a modern day version of Job in the last stretch).  But Dr. T never loses his cool.  He even accepts his fate with a smile and hearty laugh, as he drives through the rain with the top of his convertible torn.

The finale is a bit of a shocker in terms of what it shows on the screen (at least, I'd never seen it before), but manages to end on such a strange, wonderful note of hope that you can't help but smile.  Dr. T may not have all the answers, but he proves to be a good student along the way, and you can't help but think that like cream, he'll rise to the top again.

Video ****

This anamorphic transfer is simply gorgeous…no complaints.  Images maintain an incredible level of detail and clarity, from the smallest objects to the items in deepest focus:  nothing gets distorted or mishandled.  The coloring is quite perfect throughout:  bright and vivid, yet natural looking, from the flesh tones to the pure whites and deep blacks.  The photography is often subtle, yet extraordinary, and this DVD makes for a more than worthy rendering.

Audio ****

This is a terrific, and surprisingly potent, 5.1 soundtrack given the fact that the picture is character and not action oriented.  The aforementioned weather scenes are particularly striking, and makes strong use of the subwoofer and multi-channel mix to the point where you'll think you're hearing thunder off in the distance instead of your living room.  Lyle Lovett's spirited instrument score sounds terrific, too, with a good clean presentation, and dialogue maintains excellent clarity throughout, even during Altman's trademark scenes of overlapping voices into a cacophony of sound.  The dynamic range is impressively strong, too.  This may be the best soundtrack I've yet heard for a non-action film.

Features ***1/2

This disc boasts a solid commentary track.  It brings together Altman, Rapp, and the majority of his remarkable cast.  They're recorded separately, but a voice introduces each speaker when they start so you never get confused as to who you're listening to.  To hear Laura Dern, Shelly Long, Richard Gere and others chime in with their thoughts is a real treat…and considering Altman has never really shined on solo commentary tracks, this presentation was a welcome change.  The disc also includes a 15 minute interview with Altman and a production featurette, where again, most of the main cast all take part.  There is a trailer and a number of TV spots, plus production notes and talent files.  A terrific package all around.

Summary:

Dr. T and the Women represents the second collaboration between a talented writer and a masterful director, whose styles seem made for one another.  If you want to see a terrific cast, an intelligent script, masterful direction and a sense of comedy that makes you laugh without ever going for the cheap joke, make your appointment today with Dr. T.

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