The Secret Lives of Dentists
Hmmm, this is becoming a trend. Here is a movie that I loved, like All the Real Girls
, but which I’m writing relatively little about (btw, it’s certain to make my top 10). Alan Rudolph’s portrait of a marriage in crisis is notable for not having much actually happen, at least not in a dramatic sense; there’s little shouting or histrionics. The marital meltdown occurs during the mundane domestic and professional world that the characters inhabit (for example, the family pediatrician delivers some news on the apparent psychosomatic illness of the family’s eldest daughter via the phone, while sitting on the toilet reading a magazine), and takes the form of uncomfortable silences, quiet sighs, tense body language, and furtive glances at the clock, with enough ups and downs introduced in the marriage of David (Campbell Scott) and Dana (Hope Davis) Hurst to introduce an element of ambiguity into David’s suspicions that his wife is cheating on him (with the entire question of Dana’s infidelity coming to a screeching halt when a more immediate concern, a bout of influenza, gradually overtakes the entire family leading to much vomiting; still the tension continues to simmer beneath the surface). The film is perfectly cast, I’ve always found Hope Davis to be a somewhat detached actress, and this distance pays off for her role as a straying wife, while Campbell Scott creates an outwardly calm, controlled character and allows the audience to see the anger percolating underneath.
The Secret Lives of Dentists
is a very interiorized movie (I think this is the quality that the movie’s title refers to, not the actual domestic strife), sticking almost completely to Scott’s POV; we see his somewhat banal fantasies surrounding his wife’s affair (actually, they’re often hilariously banal), fever dreams, as well a replay of earlier scenes, which end on a much more different, more positive note. But most importantly, the film supplies a personification of David’s inner life, in the form of Dennis Leary, who actually plays a dual role, a hostile dental patient named Slater, and the proverbial devil on David’s shoulder (not to mention conscience, devil’s advocate, and id). Leary’s brand of acerbic, angry style of comedy is a perfect foil for Scott’s “placid” demeanor, and the interplay between the two is great, especially since Scott strains to resist most of Leary’s suggestions, but then, can’t help but let things slip out. He is that angry voice which races through your mind. It’s this resistance which feeds into the main marital dynamic.
The Hurst’s marriage, where David was once the risk taker (example being the country bike ride that Rudolph periodically cuts back to), has completely stultified into a rather hectic domestic routine. Rudolph sets this up beautifully in the first few scenes, as David, his attention completely absorbed by the couple’s three children, seems completely oblivious to his wife’s passion for the opera (the only thing she actually seems passionate about), he even acts like going to his wife’s performance as something of a chore. His childish refusal to even engage her about her affair (heaven forbid the routine is broken), other than a few snide remarks muttered under his breath, seems to be almost an extension of this earlier dynamic, which probably served to only push her farther away. At the end, after a prolonged absence, she returns, but there reconciliation is perfunctory; having banished Slater, David calmly, and curtly, informs his wife that he doesn’t want to know anything about her affair. Pushing everything under the rug doesn’t seem to bode well for the future of their marriage.