I pity the fool who watches this movie! Except, I wouldn't want to call Judge Nicholas Sylvain a fool, because he'd bleed me like a chicken. Just read his review and don't make him angry.
Our review of Dr. T And The Women: Special Edition, published September 6th, 2007, is also available.
A man drowning in a sea of women.
Dr. T and the Women is a strange sort of film, set up as a comedic slice of life of a successful Dallas gynecologist whose life begins to spin wildly out of control. Unfortunately, the end result comes off as far more tragic than comedic, and takes far too long to meander to its bizarre conclusion. Artisan brings Dr. T and the Women to disc with a fine technical presentation and a modest collection of extras.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Sullivan Travis (AKA Dr. T) (Richard Gere) has a ob/gyn practice that caters to the socialite set of Dallas. It is so popular that his waiting room is a perpetual madhouse, but kept barely in control by Carolyn (Shelley Long), who harbors a secret crush on Dr. T. Crisis begins to disturb his idyllic life when his wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett), withdraws from the real world and is confined to a psychiatric hospital. His family soldiers on, preparing for the social event wedding of Dr. T's daughter, Dee Dee (Kate Hudson), aided by his flighty, alcoholic sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern).
Dr. T continues with his normal activities, like hunting with his pals Harlan (Robert Hays), Bill (Matt Malloy), and Eli (Andy Richter), but it is only when he comes across golf pro Bree Davis (Helen Hunt) that he finds adequate solace. As the wedding looms, his life unravels even further, thanks to a shock from Kate and an unexpected revelation by his daughter Connie (Tara Reid). The wedding is torn asunder by weather and a further surprise, driving Dr. T into a wild Texas tornado and a surreal ending.
Dr. T and the Women barely covered its $12 million budget at the box office, and it's not hard to understand why. Marketing executives must have thrown up their hands in frustration when they tried to decide how to sell this film to the public. It's not a light romantic comedy, it's not a serious drama, it's not a weeper-tragedy. Some might call it a horror film, but those are the people who mistakenly wandered into the theater, expecting a far better movie. In any event, it is fair to say that Dr. T and the Women fits well into none of those categories and comes perilously close to being nothing more than a big-budget art-house movie of limited interest to the general audience.
Robert Altman (The Player, Nashville, M*A*S*H) seems very proud of having cast "sexiest man alive" Richard Gere (An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman) against type as a perfect husband, utterly devoted and faithful, just a straight-laced guy. Well, aside from leaping into the arms of another woman only a short time after his wife is committed to a psychiatric hospital, and running an office where making an appointment is a leap of faith, sure, he's a swell guy. By the end of the film, that is still all we know. We never obtain insight as to why he is such a paragon of feminine understanding, and must content ourselves with Richard Gere's charming, sensitive performance.
With the exception of the fairly interchangeable male friends of Dr. T, the remainder of the (female) cast each makes their characters stand out from the others, yet fit seamlessly into the overall film. High marks, overall, except for Liv Tyler and her stiff emoting.
The anamorphic video transfer is excellent. A clean, clear picture comes with proper color saturation and solid flesh-tones, though at times excessive sharpness and digital edge enhancement detract from the otherwise excellent transfer.
The audio track is of high quality and well suited to Dr. T and the Women. As a character-driven story, emphasis is firmly placed on the front soundstage, with clear dialogue and a full, rich reproduction for the score and assorted songs. The rear surrounds and subwoofer kick in primarily for ambient fill, except during the ending, where your entire 5.1 setup will get an energetic workout.
Extra content includes a standard "making-of" featurette (11 minutes), a collection of five TV spots and the theatrical trailer, reasonably extensive cast & crew files, a collection of production notes, an interview with Robert Altman, and a commentary track. The interview with Altman is insightful, though it points out how the commentary track would have been enhanced by a greater degree of his participation. Further, the interview seems to have been done with a hand-held camera, and the wobbliness of the picture gets distracting at times. Nobody could afford a tripod? The commentary track includes director Robert Altman, writer Anne Rapp, and actors Richard Gere, Shelley Long, Farrah Fawcett, Janine Turner, Tara Reid, Laura Dern, Matt Malloy, Andy Richter, Robert Hays and Wren Arthur. With so many participants, this could have been a total disaster, but judicious editing keeps it moving along and fairly related to what is on screen. I still prefer a less crowded track with participants spontaneously reacting to the movie on screen, but this is an acceptable substitute. An Amaray-like keep case (with three wedge shaped hub portions) and the usual color insert round out the extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
WARNING! SPOILER BELOW!
On the commentary track, so many of the participants talk about Dr. T and the Women as a satire or a comedy. That came as a surprise to me, for while there were moments during the film that were mildly amusing, I would hardly have recognized it as a satire or a comedy of any sort. Kate's regression into a child-like state, Dr. T's infidelity with Bree, and the pathos of Peggy sketch out a tragedy. There are some satiric elements in the appearance-conscious materiality of the Dallas socialites, but here too it seems more pathetic than comedic.
The plot seems more of an excuse for actors to chew on their roles than for a tight, coherently presented story. It as if director Altman and writer Rapp wanted to show a broad range of female characters—the regressed, child-like Kate, the insecure, loner Connie, the strong, free-spirited Bree, the chatterbox façade of Peggy, and so on. In this they have admirably succeeded, and I can understand why actors would have been attracted to this Altman project. Dr. T and the Women is very much an actor's movie, with most of the direction coming from the casting process and thus letting the actors have free reign to interpret and improvise.
No doubt this makes for a great creative enterprise, but it ends up short-changing the audience. I never really cared where the Dr. T and the Women was headed, but I began to wonder when the plot would wander to its end. Maybe a woman might be able to glean some truths from Dr. T and the Women worthy of the two hour running time, but worse still than finding none was the mild sense of boredom that the film evoked. Altman certainly knows how to beautifully film the essence of an area, as he does with Dallas, and certainly works well with actors, but in Dr. T and the Women he never grabs a hold of the audience and draws them into his world. We stay on the outside, watching this parade of the well-to-do and having precious little sympathy for their troubles.
The ending of Dr. T and the Women is a glaring flaw, perhaps the most obvious of them all. The last couple of chapters take Dr. T and the Women on a sharp left turn into Fanciful Land, leaving the viewer thoroughly confused. This is an ending that is quite out of character from the film that preceded it, particularly the gratuitous, exceedingly intimate and very real shot of a live birth. Sure, maybe it's never been done before, but that's an excuse, not a valid reason.
In a continuing irritant from Artisan discs, Dr. T and the Women has zero subtitles. I can only imagine that some bean-counter wanted to save a few pennies, for I cannot otherwise explain such a minor and wholly inexcusable omission. Shame on Artisan!
If you are looking for a real character showcase, where actors get to have fun, or you are looking for something a little on the oddball side, then perhaps Dr. T and the Women is for you. Otherwise, rent it if you can't find anything else at the video store, and buy ($25 retail) if you have seen it and know you'll like it.
Dr. T and the Women is guilty of not being my kind of movie, and Artisan is again reprimanded for its lack of ANY subtitles.
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