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THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary, Robin Tunney
Director: Alan Rudolph
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2004

“Dave, let me explain something to you, okay? People hate you, and you’re a dentist.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes. They can’t wait to get out of your office, okay? They think about you, they think ‘pain’.”

Film ***

Watching a film like The Secret Lives of Dentists makes you acknowledge greatly independent cinema. Films like this are all about a series of mastered performances that ushers in the all around essence and feeling of the characters. Director Alan Rudolph and screenwriter Craig Lucas, working from the novel The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley, have created a much fascinating portrait of a man going through a midlife crisis, but not knowing exactly how to confront the problems in his life, or how to even tell himself something is wrong.

The man in question is David Hurst (Campbell Scott), the town dentist who has the appearance of a wonderful family life, but nothing could be further from the truth. His wife, Dana (Hope Davis), is also a dentist, as the married couple share a practice together. They met in dental school, and David was so won over by her charm and smarts. Needless to say, times have changed since then, as David suspects something that could eventually wreck the wonderful life they share.

One night, while attending a performance piece that Dana is appearing in, David makes a crucial glance indicating the possibility that Dana maybe having an affair. Though it may seem that way, David tries to keep his cool about it, and tries to not let his suspicions get the better of him. The truth is that the couple hasn't done a great deal of communicating recently. Every time Dana tries to spark a conversation of any type, David seems to be drifting off to sleep.

As for his professional life, the only thorn in David's side is that of a neurotic patient named Slater (Denis Leary) who is keeping an appointment made by his ex-wife. He is there to have a cavity filled. Later that night, during the theater performance, Slater locates the doctor to inform him that the filling fell out, as well as informing the entire crowd in a sarcastic tone that David is a lousy dentist.

As David's midlife crisis is coming into play, Slater keeps popping up in the form of an alter ego. He serves as insight into the doctor's problems, and gives him advice on how to deal with it, and most of the time the advice isn't so subtle. Denis Leary, an actor whom I've admired since his early comedian days, is well suited for this razor sharp role. It's a performance that allows Leary to tap into his pure manic mode, making a perfect counterpart to Campbell Scott's wonderfully subtle performance.

The Secret Lives of Dentists is quite the superb performance piece you'd expect with actors of this sort. It's a sharp dark comedy that isn't too dark nor light, but perfectly fit in the middle. A film that deals with realistic human behavior in intense emotional circumstances.

Video ****

Even with light independent fare, Columbia Tri Star manages to whip up a fantastic looking presentation. The anamorphic picture delivers in every single visible aspect, in terms of color, sharpness, and all around clarity and detail. No flaws detected at any point.

Audio ***

Although this won't come across as a disc to show off with on a sound system, the 5.1 presentation still manages to invoke some aural power into this character and dialogue-driven film. Music playback is delivered terrifically, and dialogue is delivered in the utmost form of clarity.

Features ***1/2

A very good Special Edition release from CTS, as the extras include commentary from Alan Rudolph and Campbell Scott, a Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene" special, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, and a trailer gallery.

Summary:

A good enough companion piece to the brilliant Lost in Translation, The Secret Lives of Dentists is a pitch perfect portrait of a mild mannered adult going through a heinous mid life crisis. It's one dark comedy that really deserves such a genre label.