[box cover]

Dr. T and the Women

Artisan Home Entertainment

Starring Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Kate Hudson,
Tara Reid, Shelly Long, Laura Dern,
and Liv Tyler

Written by Anne Rapp
Directed by Robert Altman

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

When Robert Altman hits the target the result can be breathtaking. Just take a look at the rich tapestry of faltering hopes in Nashville, or the trenchant blending of real- and movie-life in The Player.

Unfortunately, in his career of directing over 70 feature films, Altman misses more often than he hits, and when he misses, boy does he ever, turning in work that is generally aimless, arrogant, and marked with the distinctive stamp of the amateur. That's what makes Dr. T and the Women such a surprise. Although burdened by many of the director's worst habits, the film overall tells a thoughtful, nuanced story that, most unusually for one of Hollywood's top cynics, ends with an infectious sense of affection and wonder.

Dr. Travis (Richard Gere) is caught in the middle of a storm. As an attentive, handsome OB/GYN, he is surrounded at all times by women. And not just any women, but that distinctive breed of Dallas socialite that exaggerates all the strengths and weakness of the fairer sex. They are a force of nature all their own — stubborn, needy, and fragile — and Dr. T prides himself in being the calm at the center of this turbulent estrogen system.

As if the demands on his professional life weren't enough, Dr. T also has two grown daughters, one planning a wedding to the other's protests, and a wife well beyond the county line of sanity. In the midst of this chaos, he strikes up a relationship with an unusual woman (the omnipresent Helen Hunt) whose stillness and independence both seduce him and call his whole life into question.

The trademarks of faltering Altman are all in place in Dr. T and the Women — noisy scenes of lots of people loudly talking over one another, badly staged attempts at physical humor, and the tendency to bludgeon the audience with sardonic points better made with restraint and subtlety. However, the strengths of Anne Rapp's complex screenplay are well realized by Altman, and Gere gives a phenomenal, understated performance in the title role, perhaps the best of his career. He is a good man whose tragic flaw is his own goodness, with good intentions spread too thin amongst the many women demanding his special attention. And to those closest to him, he either fails to truly know them, or overcompensates, pushing them into alienation with his encompassing, yet undisciplined, gifts as a provider.

The scenes between Dr. T and his troubled wife (Farah Fawcett) are tender and heartbreaking, despite Altman's proclivity to schmaltz-up scenes of mental illness. And the ending — despite some questionable special effects and an oddly Evil Dead 2-like plot turn — takes the director's penchant for ensemble-cast-uniformly-affected-by-chaos-inciting-yet-life-changing-freak-event-denouements and stamps it with an unexpectedly touching and life-affirming resolution.

As is the case with Altman's films of the last decade, the cast of Dr. T and the Women reads like a who's who of up 'n' comers and has-beens, punctuated with a few A-list stars aiming to add posterity to a career of banal fluff. Helen Hunt is fine (if a bit too ubiquitous) as the woman who rocks Dr. T's world by not needing him for anything. Also along for the ride are Kate Hudson, Tara Reid, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Liv Tyler, Andy Richter, Robert Hays, Lee Grant, and Janine Turner. Lyle Lovett provides the music, but unfortunately does not try to act.

Artisan's DVD edition of Dr. T and the Women offers anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and a clean Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The disc features an interview with Altman, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a commentary track featuring Altman and most of his cast.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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