"I wish my wife would love me," David Hurst (Campbell Scott) laments to
Slater (Denis Leary) about his wife Dana (Hope Davis). "I wish she would
look at me with desire rather than regret."
David and Dana are husband and wife dentists in Alan Rudolph's THE SECRET
LIVES OF DENTISTS. David suspects that Dana is cheating on him since she
frequently sneaks off depressed on unnecessary outings only to return
satisfied and happy. But the more he becomes convinced that she's being
unfaithful, the less certain we are that his suspicions are on target.
The film is as much comedy as drama, thanks to a delightful performance by
Leary as the world's worst dental patient. After harassing David in the
office and in public, Slater starts appearing as David's imaginary,
wise-cracking sidekick with lots of unappreciated and crudely delivered
advice for him.
The sharply written script by Craig Lucas, based on Jane Smiley's novella
"The Age of Grief," is filled with delicious irony and multiple meanings.
When we first meet Dana, she is about to perform in the chorus of a local
production of "Aida." Her part? She is one of the virgins. "I just can't
believe it's all over!" she cries the next day to David. Although she is
nominally speaking about the end of the opera, her words could equally well
apply to her marriage or to a possible affair with the opera's conductor.
Their domestic life is full of grief for Dana since their three young girls
have bonded completely with David and not at all with her. The youngest of
the brood is a clingy brat who screams, "I want Daddy!" whenever Dana offers
Even with its numerous fantasy sequences, the best part of the story is its
firm foundation in reality. In most movies, when characters become ill,
they invariably get something deadly like cancer. In THE SECRET LIVES OF
DENTISTS, the entire family comes down with the stomach flu, which takes its
standard five days to work its way through every member. The sickness is
yet one more metaphor in a metaphor-rich tale.
When the movie's mystery is finally revealed, don't be surprised if you
don't care. The journey is the reward in THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS, not
some shocking surprise.
THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS runs 1:45. It is rated R for "sexuality and
language" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes