Dr. T & the Women


              Richard Gere cast as a gynecologist sounds like it might be the
      punch line to a bad joke, but in Robert Altman's delightful new film
      
DR. T & THE WOMEN, it turns out to be inspired casting. The actor
      who has built his career playing cocksure bad boys (
AMERICAN GIGOLO,
      AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) has of late settled into a more
      gentle mode. Having altered the public's perception through his comic
      roles (
PRETTY WOMAN, RUNAWAY BRIDE) and achieving a measure
      of inner peace through Buddhism, Gere has emerged as a more relaxed
      performer. As Dr. Sullivan Travis, whose clientele are the most prominent
      women of Dallas, he offers up one of his best on screen portrayals. Under
      Altman's direction, Gere takes a man who in some ways is almost too
      good to be true --  he refers to women as "saints" -- and fleshes him
      out as a three-dimensional human being. On the surface, Dr. T has it
      all: the bustling practice (embodied in the amusing opening sequence),
      the picture perfect family including a loving wife (Farrah Fawcett) and
      daughters Dee Dee (Kate Hudson), who is busy planning her upcoming
      wedding, and Connie (Tara Reid), a JFK assassination enthusiast who
      offers guided tours of Dealey Plaza to tourists. He's kind enough to let
      his sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) and her three daughters stay at
      his home and even manages time for male bonding with his buddies
      (Robert Hays, Matt Malloy and Andy Richter) over golf, skeet shooting,
      duck hunting and sandwiches. For him, life is damn near perfect.

              Of course, there's no drama in a perfect life and Dr. T's is hit
      with a major upheaval. His emotionally fragile wife suffers a
      breakdown and begins to revert to childhood. When she decides to go
      skinny dipping in a shopping mall fountain, it leads to her incarceration
      in a mental hospital. Younger daughter Connie (who constantly tells
      her father "don't worry about me") starts to drop suggestions that
      there may be a compelling reason why her sister Dee Dee shouldn't
      get married.  

              Dee Dee, for her part, is caught up in planning her wedding and
      trying out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. As his home life
      unravels, Dr. T's office also begins to show cracks, despite the best
      efforts of his overly efficient office manager Carolyn (Shelley Long).
      Patients snipe and one another in veiled bitchy dialogue that sounds
      like an update of
THE WOMEN. Suddenly Dr. T's life is turning stressful,
      so when he meets Bree (Helen Hunt), a plainspoken former golf pro,
      it's not too surprising that the medico finds himself drifting into an affair.

              A Robert Altman film can always be counted on for several things:
      overlapping dialogue, terrific visuals, and fine performances. Even in the
      more misguided features in his canon, Altman can surprise audiences.
        DR. T & THE WOMEN is no exception. The director has always had a
      particular touch with actresses and the majority of the women in the
      film rise to the challenge, fleshing out what could have become
      caricatures in lesser hands. Farrah Fawcett takes a relatively small
      role and invests it with the appropriate pathos. She and Gere share
      one quietly heartbreaking scene in the hospital. (And for the record,
      the fiftysomething Fawcett looks fabulous when she does her nude romp.)        

              Rising star Kate Hudson is terrific as the doctor's daughter who
      is harboring a secret. As she has already demonstrated in
      
200 CIGARETTES and ALMOST FAMOUS, Hudson is one to watch.
      Her Dee Dee is no airhead, but a passionate young woman torn between
      her duty to her family and her true feelings. Tara Reid does a wonderful
      job as Connie, whose tour of Dealey Plaza is a hoot. There is also a
      neediness in her constant assurances to her father -- who somehow
      manages to not to pick up on them -- that are touching. Shelley Long
      offers some of her best screen work as Dr. T's long-suffering office
      manager and Janine Turner contributes a vivid take on a modern
      society woman. But Laura Dern steals the film as Peggy, Dr. T's
      boozy, pushy sister-in-law. Dern has on occasion seemed too studied
      in her acting but under Altman's direction, she blossoms. Helen Hunt,
      on the other hand, is miscast as the golf pro. Hunt doesn't have
      the spark of a movie star here and her limited repertoire -- most of
      which is overly familiar from TV's
Mad About You leaves her at a
      disadvantage. The fact that she and Gere have no romantic chemistry
      also hurts as their relationship fails to come alive thereby
      undercutting a major plot point in Anne Rapp's screenplay.

              The final third of the film is perhaps the weakest with attempts
      to tie together all that has transpired.
Dr. T & THE WOMEN may not
      rank as top-drawer Altman (what could compare with
M*A*S*H* or
        NASHVILLE?), but it still is an enjoyable and well-acted comedy-drama
      worth seeing.


                              
Rating:                 B
                              
MPAA Rating:        R
                              
Running time:        122 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.