The Secret Lives of Dentists Movie Review
Dentists (adapted from Jane Smiley's novel The Age of Grief) opens with a brisk, gorgeously rendered sequence where David spies Dana being caressed lovingly by an unknown gentleman before she takes the stage in a small-town production of the opera Nabucco. As Verdi blares, David's mind swims. We rush through their romance in grainy flashbacks: Falling in love in dental school, starting a practice together, raising three daughters, and buying a weekend cabin in upstate New York. Scott, who's an expert at roles where he plays the well-meaning victim of circumstance, is excellent here. Subtly, he captures the way that wronged, anti-social people speak: Speaking a bit too loud to Dana, you can feel him studying her for evidence of sin. His eyes - and the camera - study her legs and the hem of her skirt, wondering what her sexual needs might be.
But for all its turmoil, Dentists is mainly comedy. As David sinks deeper into Walter Mitty-styled fantasies, he's tailed by his goading conscience, which takes the form of Denis Leary. We meet Leary first as an angered patient - David botched his filling - but soon he's sitting in the passenger seat of David's SUV, worming ideas into his head. Leary's perfect for the part: His chain-smoking, tough-talking persona is usually grating, but here he's supposed to grate. He encourages David to ditch the wife, go on the road, chuck it all, leave the kids. When his daughters act up in the living room, he tells David, "These kids ought to be struck." Beat. "May I hit them?" Sickened and tired, David has to think for a moment before he says no.
American Beauty depicted marital strife in a cynical, postmodern fashion; we were all supposed to have a good laugh at the pathetic suburbanites. Dentists is made of braver stuff: It wants us to look hard at what it means when a man cooks breakfast for his wife passive-aggressively, when he's swallowed by his own fears. We're having a good laugh at the absurdity of David's fantasies, sure - Dana in a kinky threesome, his dental assistant wooing him by singing "Fever" in a cocktail dress, sitting in his car as his children mock his cuckolded state. Yet those fantasies aren't just jokes - the build David's character. And everyone else's as well.
Alan Rudolph, who after a brief flirtation with the A-list in the '80s had become a mere journeyman director, has made one of his best films here. A caustic, witty study of love and sex, it illuminates how easily a single stray thought can destroy the charms of both.
The DVD of the film includes thoughtful commentary from Rudolph and the cast, plus a scant few random deleted scenes and bloopers.