Lionsgate // 2000 // 122 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // September 6th, 2007
"I think every single woman I've ever met has got something special about her, something that sets her apart from the rest."
Dr. T & the Women continued Robert Altman's career-long fascination with women and Texas. Here, he's interested in that most peculiar of American subcultures: rich Dallas socialites. Altman and his partner-in-crime, screenwriter Anne Rapp, did their homework and assembled all the right ingredients: the fashions, the feigned Southern graciousness, golf, and lots and lots of big Texas hair.
The story of Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere), an ob/gyn to the Big D's social elite, and a husband and father whose charmed life is rocked by a series of personal crises, Dr. T is one of Altman's most lightweight films. It's billed as a comedy, and lest there be any doubt that he and Rapp were shooting for satire, the cast of characters includes a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and a guide at a JFK assassination museum. The film's dizzying opening sequence is classic Altman. His roving, whirling camera swims through a sea of gossiping women, setting the stage for light fare. Trouble is, Altman's touch isn't light enough. Farrah Fawcett is both ravishing and heartbreaking as Sullivan's wife, Kate, a woman fast losing touch with reality, but the story's sadness douses the comedy with a cold splash of reality.
To be perfectly honest, I don't know what in the world this movie is about. What is its reason for existing? The best I can say about Dr. T is that while it is a failure, it's never boring, and it's well worth watching for three reasons.
The cast. Gere shines as the movie's gentle center, but check out the heavenly bodies orbiting around him: Besides Fawcett, there's Helen Hunt, Laura Dern, Kate Hudson, Tara Reid, Liv Tyler, Shelley Long, Lee Grant, Janine Turner, Andy Richter, Matt Malloy, and Robert Hays.
The score. Lyle Lovett, a longtime favorite of Altman's, composed the music, and his soundtrack is an irresistible blend of acoustic guitar and Texas two-step. As usual in an Altman film, the songs comment on the action. Especially effective are Lovett's "You've Been So Good Up to Now" and "She's Already Made Up Her Mind."
That ending. If you haven't seen it, you've heard about it. Okay, so it's a head-scratcher, and the jarring shift in tone is further evidence that Dr. T (the film, not the character) is downright schizophrenic. But what an amazing sequence, and the thunderstorm that precedes it makes for some gorgeous -- and strangely otherworldly -- visuals. Not to mention there's no way in hell you saw those last ten minutes coming.
It's a crying shame that Altman and company don't unravel the film's many mysteries on this disc's feature-length commentary or various extras. The package is labeled as a "special edition," but the extras, save for two featurettes, are carryovers from the previous edition. They're entertaining, but not particularly insightful.
The package would have benefited from a director-only commentary, since Altman is given little time to chat on the disc's one available track. Small wonder, given the number of participants involved: Altman, Rapp, Gere, Fawcett, Long, Turner, Reid, Dern, Malloy, Richter, Hays, and Wren Arthur. All seem to have been recorded separately, and their remarks alternate between mildly fun (according to Rapp, rich Dallas women will not so much as step out of the house for the morning paper without full hair and makeup) and obvious (the entire opening sequence was unscripted, says Long).
The 15-minute interview with Altman comes closest to providing a solid analysis of the work, while the 11-minute "making of" featurette is largely promotional material. The almost 11-minute "Altman's Apprenticeship: The Kansas City Years," new to this edition, gives a glimpse into the director's early work with an industrial film company. "Floating Freely: Collaborating with Altman" is also new to this edition and runs just over ten minutes. Featuring interviews with screenwriters and actors from several of Altman's '70s-era films, there's enough material here for a two-hour documentary. It's an interesting, often funny watch (Altman deliberately made Karen Black the most despised actor on the set of Nashville), but it leaves you wanting more.
Also included are Dr. T's theatrical trailer and television promos.
The anamorphic video transfer and Dolby 5.1 Surround are both excellent, although they too seem to have been carried over from the previous edition.
One wishes a music-only track had been included. Also, English subtitles, which are not included here, are absolute necessities for an Altman film, where improvisation and overlapping dialogue is the order of the day.
Lionsgate is guilty of a disappointing treatment for Altman's fascinating failure.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary with Director, Writer, and Cast
* "Altman's Apprenticeship: The Kansas City Years"
* "Floating Freely: Collaborating with Altman"
* "The Making of Dr. T & the Women"
* Interview with Robert Altman
* Trailer and TV Spots
* DVD Verdict Review of Dr. T & the Women