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The Secret Lives of Dentists
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

"The Secret Lives Of Dentists" is a suggestive title. Just a mention of the word ‘secret’ can kick start the imagination. But Director Alan Rudolph has a way of working against expectations in his latest film.

In some ways this movie reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s final work, "Eyes Wide Shut". In Kubrick’s movie, the lead character, (also a doctor), believes that his wife has had an affair. Solely on the basis of his wild imaginings he sets off on a self-destructive jaunt into the dark night of the city. He’s lucky to make it out alive.

But as Rudlph’s movie unfolds, it becomes apparent that "The Secret Lives Of Dentists" is more about survival than self-destruction. Rudolph’s movie turns out to be an emotionally accurate celebration of the quotidian.

The dentists in "Secret Lives…" are a married couple, each with a practice. They have three young daughters. Dr. Dave and Dr. Dana work together, sleep together, and try to play together, at least most of the time. But out of a yearning for something more than the plu-perfect middle class life, Dana becomes involved in a community opera troupe. Soon, husband Dave imagines that more is going on with Dana than a bit role in the opera’s chorus.

There’s not a lot of plot in "Secret Lives…". Much of the action, such as it is, takes place in the dentists large suburban home. Dr. Dave, played by Campbell Scott, spends a lot of screen time tending to the needs of his three young daughters. These scenes amazed me for their uncanny accuracy. The relationships between daughter and father are so apparently real that I wouldn’t have been surprised to have discovered in the credits that these were Mr. Scott’s children. But they’re not. Great credit goes to the young actors, the casting director, Campbell Scott, and of course, to Alan Rudolph for the exceptional verisimilitude.

Hope Davis, as Dr. Dana, has less screen time and much less dialogue than Scott, but her portrait of a conflicted wife and mother is a strong one. In a memorable scene she arrives home late one night in a taxi. She doesn’t know that her husband is watching from a secluded place in the yard. She hesitates at the front door before entering. In a subtle, silent shrug before opening the door Davis says more than most actors can say with words. Even in her absence, she is as present as Scott, which is to take nothing at all from his fine performance.

"The Secret Lives Of Dentists" is leavened by Denis Leary’s performance as a ubiquitous specter haunting the thoughts of Dr. Dave. Leary’s character, Slater, is short on tact and long on gauche. He enters the story as a disgruntled patient, identifying himself as a trumpet player abandoned by an ungrateful wife. But we come to know him more as a blowhard than as a musician. Leary’s timing is impeccable and serves as welcome relief from the artful tedium of Dr. Dave’s domestic responsibilities.

"The Secret Lives Of Dentists" is not the movie I expected to see. It’s much better.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.