February 5, 2004

A Filling, Without The Novocaine

secret_lives.jpgFilms about dentists are hard to come by. There was the black comedy Novocaine in 2001, which featured, among other oddities, the slightly disturbing pairing of Steve Martin and Helena Bonham Carter, a Kung Fu-crazy Laura Dern and a teddy bear with dentures. The latest periodontic delight to catch PCC's interest is Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists, just released on DVD. While Novocaine was definitely a comedy, albeit a deranged one, Secret Lives is a meticulous drama, for adults and about adults. It stars Campbell Scott (the son of George C. and Colleen Dewhurst who just gets better and better with age) and Hope Davis (rivaling Patricia Clarkson for the title of Indie Queen) as married dentists living in upstate New York with their three young daughters.

On the surface, everything in the Hurst household is perfect: adorable children, a successful joint dental practice. But as the story unfolds, we learn that Scott and Davis are drifting apart as a couple, to a point that Scott sees (or does he?) Davis in the arms of another man backstage before a community opera performance. What follows is one man's battle to both confront and escape from his fears of marital infidelity. Denis Leary, in an uncharacteristically toned-down performance, plays Slater, a surly patient of Scott's that the dentist begins to imagine as the "devil" on his shoulder.

The pace is slow, but we come to understand that it matches Scott's intense dislike of any kind of confrontation. At times we want to shake him and shut him in a room with Davis so that something, anything, will be communicated. But at the same time, when the time comes for Scott to take action, the result makes you ache as you realize it couldn't have happened any other way. The performances Rudolph gets from his two leads are amazing. Scott, whose production company Holedigger Films also produced the film, is wonderful as a man who is lost in contemplating what his life was supposed to be like, terrified to confront the reality of how it really is. His interactions with his children are some of the best scenes in the film. He doesn't appear to be "playing" a father in the effortless way he molds his body around the extra weight of his youngest who can't stand to be separated from her daddy.

Even though the story is told through Scott's point of view, Davis creates real, sympathetic character in Dana Hurst. It's painful to watch her eyes fall when her children, especially the youngest, prefer the company of her husband. Both Davis and Scott have a wonderfully dry, almost sarcastic, style of delivery that melds perfectly with each other and makes us wish, despite all their problems as a couple, that everything will work out in the end.

Posted by jordan at February 5, 2004 1:38 PM