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The Secret Lives of Dentists
2003 - R - 105 Mins.
Director: Alan Rudolph
Producer: Campbell Scott, Jonathan Filley, George VanBuskirk
Written By: Craig Lucas
Starring: Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary, Robin Tunney, Cassidy Hinkle, Gianna Beleno, Lydia Jordan
Review by: Carl Langley
Dentist David Hurst (Campbell Scott) is happily married to his dentist wife, Dana (Hope Davis). They have three daughters who can be more than a handful at times; the eldest reaching the-world-involves-around-me stage and the youngest going through a hitting phase. Essentially, Dave is content, loves his family and wants to keep it that way - even if it means shadowing harrowing evidence of an affair Dana is having backstage right before her participation in a Verdi production.

After discovering Dana might be having an affair, he notices odd tidbits of behavior from Dana, like the way she overdresses to run for errands or the way he witnesses her steel herself before entering the house after a late night. Further into the film, we watch the same situations with ulterior events. This leads to an emotional and psychological meltdown. Dr. Dave, as he is known around the office, does not want to be confronted with the infidelity and has decided to let his wife work things out herself.

It doesn't help that Slater (Denis Leary), a patient of David’s who is obnoxious and misogynistic, keeps appearing in his fantasy world, speaking what David really thinks. Slater is used as the man who voices David’s opinions in a fantasy world. Without Slater, the audience would have had more trouble understanding what the film is really about: That everybody has a secret life. It's like when you're asked if you enjoy the taste of a specially made meat loaf and you respond ‘It's fantastic,’ but in reality you are thinking ‘this garbage is drier than the Sahara Desert.’ That is David’s life with Dana everyday.

Alan Rudolph, who is responsible for some truly awful muck ('Breakfast of Champions'), helmed this motion picture and 'The Secret Lives of Dentists' is easily his best film to date. Rudolph creates a believable household - one that depicts the quotidian family happiness and its pandemonium. In a brilliant scene (although the “scene” lasts for one third of the movie), the entire Hurst family is stricken with the flu and we watch the epidemic struggle with one or two family members at a time. Though the event brings the family together, it also pushes Dana away, which leads to a surprise climatic ending.

Campbell Scott and Hope Davis are amazing as the married couple. Credit goes to Scott, who also produced this film after receiving the script way back in 1989. His character shows how he is making strides with his family, all the while showing cowardice with his questioning of Dana’s lust. Davis, who continues to demonstrate strong work ('American Splendor') is brilliant as the wife searching for the missing piece of the puzzle.

'The Secret Lives of Dentists,' based on the 1987 novella 'The Age of Grief' by Jane Smiley, is beautifully drawn and courageously acted. It studies the simple and real things in family life while surrounded by the most complicated. Notice the little scenes such as dinners being served, the discussion during meals, or even the way David rubs Dana's foot cramp during the night. There's a sense of honesty and truth in the air; and the same can be said about this remarkable film.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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