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Dr. T and the Women

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Dr. T and the Women

Starring: Richard Gere, Helen Hunt
Director: Robert Altman
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genres: Comedy, Drama


*Also starring: Laura Dern, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Hudson, Shelley Long, Tara Reid, Andy Richter, Janine Turner, Liv Tyler



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

I once corresponded by e-mail with a rich woman, the wife of a successful doctor. She regularly said, only half-jokingly, that he is a lucky man. Why? Because "he gets to see women in their panties." Are male doctors really fortunate in that respect? This is doubtful since they get to see a large number of women each day and I suspect they take a purely professional interest in the panties. Then again: could the converse be true? Could a gynecologist, who sees women in the most intimate way, become so anesthetized that he would no longer appreciate his wife or girl friend as a woman? This is not the case with Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere) who, in Robert Altman's new, intermittently comic and lovingly satiric "Dr. T and the Women," portrays a busy man who has the highest respect for the opposite sex. "They're saints," he believes, and he is very much attracted to his wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett). But when Kate falls victim to a psychological ailment described, perhaps tongue-in-cheek by psychiatrist Dr. Harper (Lee Grant), as a reversion to childishness and virginity, Dr. T finds that notwithstanding all the women he sees in his examining room and the seductive moves by his nurse Carolyn (Shelley Long), he is missing the tenderness he craves.

In his usual style, Robert Altman has created yet another quirky, multilayered film that casts his impudent eye on an aspect of American culture. This time around, he does not complicate his tale as he did with the movie for which he is most known, "Nashville," which is a mosaic of the American experience created by interweaving 24 characters into a loosely structured plot. His target is women who lunch, described as the upper reaches of Dallas, Texas society but who appear more like members of the haute bourgeois than the genuine aristocracy. Women of various ages are looked at with Altman's cocky gaze, though none is differentiated from the other by level of wealth. These matrons patronize Dr. T's medical office in droves, often showing up without medical reason weekly, ostensibly to be touched by the gentle and expert hands of this handsome and charming physician.

In a series of comical takes, Altman--taking full advantage of Anne Rapp's knowing script--throws a series of episodes our way even while focusing on his principal story, that of the travails of Dr. Travis. No sooner have the opening credits disappeared than we find ourselves in the presence of one patient who smokes while being examined and is told by the doctor that she is the only person allowed to do this anywhere in the suite. Except for age differences, the women are alike in that all have blond hair, all dress in high heels even when leisurely visiting the mall. As for the mall itself, this Dallas creation is nothing like the Wendy's, Pizza Hut and McDonalds emporium so cleverly parodied in Paul Giamatti's "Duets" monologue but consists rather of shops like Godiva, Tiffany's and Guess.

While Altman spends the first half of the movie with his overview of the chattering, clucking, women, seen during the opening credits as nothing less than a human imitation of a chicken coop, he gets down to business some time after his wife Kate reverts to a virgin childishness and warns him that his advances are "not nice." Though Travis is surrounded by women day and night--his home houses two college-age daughters, Connie (Tara Reid) and Dee Dee (Kate Hudson) and even his sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) and her three kids--he is a one-woman man and finds love in the arms of an independent, athletic spirit, assistant golf pro Bree (Helen Hunt). Burnt out by an accumulation of dilemmas including his wife's psychosis, his daughter's wedding plans, his perpetually overbooked practice and his attraction for the elusive Bree, Dr. T undergoes a psychological, and later physical, breakdown that allows him to reassess his life.

While Altman is obviously sending up these chattering and yet need rich women, he is sympathetic to all his characters and, we suspect, under his satiric tone he too believes that the gentle sex harbors an unlimited number of candidates for sainthood. Even Richard Gere, traditionally wrapped up in himself and in several films more concerned about his flowing mane than about the people who surround him, is likeable. Helen Hunt is particularly good as the one woman about his age who is different from the rest. Her character is not society, she rents a house for just $750 a month, and is the happiest and most centered individual in the picture. On the whole, "Dr. T and the Women" does for Texas what Nashville did for Tennessee except that this time Altman more decisively casts himself in the image of a Truffaut in his affection for women. The movie is a charmer.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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