Dr. T and the Women

Directed by Robert Altman
Starring: Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Tara Reid, Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler.
MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity and some sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
October 19, 2000

The Writers' Guild is threatening to strike against the Hollywood studios for several reasons. One of the most visible issues is the crediting of a film's authorship to the director, as in "a film by ...". However, the screenplay really is secondary in certain films, especially when the director has such a prominent style. Robert Altman is such a director, and his latest film is just more proof that his direction makes any project a "Robert Altman film".

Richard Gere stars as gynecologist Sullivan Travis, or Dr. T, as he is known to his patients in Dallas. His practice is booming because all the local ladies are enchanted by his charisma and delicate touch. The women outside his practice, however, are more difficult to deal with.

His wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett), has suddenly gone insane, running around a mall naked while their daughter, Dee Dee (Kate Hudson), is shopping for her upcoming wedding. Their other daughter, Connie (Tara Reid), is jealous of Dee Dee, and is bent on outing a secret that could stop the wedding. Meanwhile, Sullivan's sister-in-law (Laura Dern) has temporarily moved in with her three daughters, making the house even more insane than the hospital that Kate is sent to. Dr. T's marriage is basically over, but a new golf pro (Helen Hunt) is in town, and his luck with women outside the office might change for the better.

Typical of many Altman films, Dr. T and the Women has a large ensemble with many different relationships at work. Gere, however, is the definite star, and he exudes all the charm necessary to make the part believable. The ads quote a critic comparing him to Cary Grant, but I wouldn't go quite that far. Grant would have been perfect for the role, and anybody else is, well, not. Without Grant, the film is unable to rise above its shallowness. Altman's films have never been characterized as consistent in quality, and this one is decidedly lightweight.

This leads me to the Auteur theory of film, as proposed by the likes of François Truffaut forty years ago. From the opening credits, Dr. T and the Women firmly establishes itself as a Robert Altman film, regardless of what the credits actually say. It is a massive sequence, with very few cuts (if any; I failed to take note), depicting a particularly busy day at the office. It manages to look realistic and organic, yet is so stylized that it becomes a grand comic ballet. In short: it was so Altman. The screenplay (by Anne Rapp, writing her second script after her debut with Altman's Cookie's Fortune) is a disposable trifle. It's the performances and the sharp style that keep the film interesting, all thanks to the keen direction of a 75-year-old master.

Certainly, some films depend greatly on the strength of the screenplay. Some depend too much, and are boring films. The writers feel that the credit given to directors is an archaic hold-over from the silent era. I say, if you want more credit, direct your own damn screenplays. That's what many people, from Billy Wilder to Woody Allen to Kevin Smith have done, and have succeeded. Of course, many more have failed, but it ain't easy being an auteur.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Dr. T and the Women (2000)

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Dr. T and the Women (2000) -- VHS
Dr. T and the Women (2000) -- DVD
Dr. T and the Women: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan