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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.79%
Worth A Look52.63%
Average: 8.77%
Pretty Bad: 12.28%
Total Crap: 10.53%

4 reviews, 33 user ratings

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Secret Lives of Dentists, The
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by Brian McKay

"The Secret life with Denis"
4 stars

The SFIFF kicked off this year with Alan Rudolph’s THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS, a film which was unveiled to U.S. audiences at Sundance a few months ago. Although it’s currently on the festival circuit, the engaging dark comedy will hopefully be heading for wide release fairly soon.

Campbell Scott and Hope Davis play David and Dana Hurst. They are married dentists who share a thriving practice. They have a nice house, a summer cabin, and three adorable daughters. They appear to have lives that are the embodiment of suburban domestic bliss. But look a little closer, and you’ll start to see the cracks.

David is having a tough day, especially with the appearance of Saxophone player and disgruntled patient Slater (Denis Leary). Slater’s in a sour mood because his wife recently left him, but on the way out the door she handed him a card reminding him of the dental appointment she’d set for him. Needless to say, Slater is in no mood to have his mouth probed, prodded, and drilled, and Leary gets some solid laughs out of the scene. Dental assistant Laura (Robin Tunney) quickly puts him in place when he asks “So, are you single?” and she replies “Yes, but I’m waiting for a man who takes better care of his teeth”.

While David seems happy in his marriage, it’s clear that Dana is less than satisfied with things. For two people who practically spend 24 hours a day around each other, they are surprisingly distant. But David gets a rude awakening when he spots his wife having a seemingly intimate moment with another man, unaware that David is watching. The possible mystery lover’s face is never revealed – David only sees the back of his head, before he turns and walks away.

Now, the moment could have been an innocent thing, a moment taken mistakenly out of context. But David’s life is suddenly put into a tailspin, as he’s left to wonder if she really is having an affair – and if so, what he’s going to do about it. Naturally, his subconscious gets the better of him, and he begins to imagine Dana engaging in a variety of sexual dalliances with patients, co-workers, whoever – all of which the viewer witnesses in a hilarious series of imagined scenes with Dana behaving like a porn star (albeit a clothed one). But if that isn’t bad enough, he is suddenly plagued by the appearance of his new imaginary friend – Slater. As imaginary friends who are a manifestation of one’s alter ego go, Slater is a pain in the ass. He’s the kind of friend who hangs around your house constantly, raids your fridge, and off-handedly tosses out sarcastic comments that prey on David’s worst fears. “Oh yeah,” he comments to David as he watches Dana from across the table. “Someone’s slipping her the salami, that’s for sure.” While this imaginary Slater mostly serves up acerbic comments and argues that David should “dump the bitch”, he also occasionally serves as the voice of reason. When David bemoans his situation, saying, “I wish she still loved me”, Slater lights up a Cuban cigar and asks, “How do you know she doesn’t?”

The reason The Secret Lives of Dentists works so well as both a dark comedy and a drama is because, as director Alan Rudolph said afterwards in the Q&A, “The characters and their situation is stripped of all melodrama. The actors aren’t so much acting as behaving, which in a way is the supreme form of acting”. There really is an absence of melodrama and over-exposition. We’re not sure why these two characters have grown so far apart, when they seem to have everything going for them. We only know that they have, and are rapidly approaching an impasse. We’re not sure why, or even if, Dana is having an affair – only that she feels unfulfilled, despite having the kind of comfortable professional and family life many would envy. And while we’re not entirely sure why David suddenly has a disgruntled patient tagging along in his head and popping up in every other scene – who cares? It’s Denis Leary!

Scott and Davis turn in subdued but strong performances here, and Leary gets plenty of laughs out of his numerous appearances. However, the entertaining narrative gimmick begins to wear out its welcome after a while, just as the imaginary Slater wears out his welcome with David. Apparently, the filmmakers came to the same conclusion, as Slater shows up less and less during the last twenty minutes. By the same token, the film starts to show its stretch marks around the same time, as if the premise of the short story it is based on (The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley) isn’t quite enough to flesh out a feature length film. Still, the film is often quite funny, mostly thanks to Scott’s frenzied imaginings of Davis screwing everyone in sight, and Leary’s frequent appearances out of nowhere to offer up his comments (or merely act like a rambunctious sidekick). The dramatic elements are handled austerely, lending the few emotional moments added weight.

If you’re anything like me, you hate spending any time with dentists (and what is it about the sound of that goddamn dental drill that can make you cringe even from the comfort of your theater seat?). However, I didn’t mind spending an hour and a half with these two. In reality, their occupation has little to do with the story at hand, but I suppose it sounds a little bit better than "The Secret Lives of Proctologists".

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originally posted: 04/19/03 04:54:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/26/09 robert petrie It's ok. 3 stars
8/17/06 j_movie_man Worst movie ever! so bad, i had to write a bad comment 1 stars
4/29/06 Scott HOW did they get those family scenes so REAL? A beautiful, subtle work, perfectly acted. 5 stars
5/11/05 jimm denna ddddddd 1 stars
5/11/05 Sully simply a horseshit movie. Acting was fine, writing blew. 1 stars
1/09/05 Sam Charming and entertaining 5 stars
8/02/04 Phil M. Aficionado There was something aggravating about it, sort of like a sore tooth. But well acted. 3 stars
3/16/04 Juli superb acting, makes u think 4 stars
11/08/03 john scenes supberb 5 stars
10/09/03 Lewis Sordid patient in the imagination of unlikeable dentist seeks to undermine his marriage 2 stars
9/22/03 Hank Great film. Didn't see the last 10 minutes due to lightning shutting down electricity 4 stars
9/21/03 Adrienne Very true to the way some dentists are--my Dad is one. Worth opening your mind to. 4 stars
9/15/03 Johnny Captivating and real, a thoughtful look into the passive aggresive mind 4 stars
9/11/03 carlmzapffe Typical view of dentists as miserably unhappy people 3 stars
9/10/03 Annette Bonder I loved it 4 stars
9/03/03 Nancy Markoff I found the moving boring, disturbing, pooring written, difficult to sit through, horrible. 1 stars
9/03/03 Jennifer we loved it 4 stars
9/01/03 s king He is pathetic as he races passively agressively through his boring life. She is absultlly 4 stars
8/31/03 Larry What crap!!...30 minutes of influenza and vomiting... 1 stars
8/27/03 shannon compelling, funny, very real and adult. amazing! 5 stars
8/27/03 Maria I have never seen a movie that has sucked so bad. There was no point in the whole movie! 1 stars
8/22/03 marvin sicherman actors + child actors fabulous, nice deep sometime funny portrayal of family life, 5 stars
8/21/03 Bob Klein Worth seeing. An adult movie, at last! 4 stars
8/20/03 =Paula= its got me thinking.... marriage might not be for me 3 stars
8/18/03 arthur appel interesting movie good story which is probably more common than not. 4 stars
8/06/03 patti cappell very provocative...dennis leary was hysterical! 5 stars
7/31/03 Mo Sack Dentistry Kubrick style 4 stars
7/31/03 Chris Concannon Double dose of reality 5 stars
7/31/03 Guadalupe Concannon Great movie 4 stars
7/27/03 Susan Kaplan Great performance by Campbell Scott 4 stars
7/02/03 Trent Windsor Amazing, Robin Tunney is absolutely stunning!!! 5 stars
5/01/03 Ralph R. Clemente I don't know - average 3 stars
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  01-Aug-2003 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2004



Directed by
  Alan Rudolph

Written by
  Craig Lucas

  Campbell Scott
  Hope Davis
  Denis Leary
  Robin Tunney

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