Dr. T And The Women

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Dr. T And The Women

Maybe it can be traced back to the influence of screenwriter Anne Rapp, but there's something gentle, if not exactly nice, about Robert Altman's two most recent films, Cookie's Fortune and the new Dr. T And The Women. Set in upscale suburban Dallas, Dr. T stars Richard Gere as an OB/Gyn specialist with a booming practice, the success of which can be attributed to more than just his skill. Women flock to him not because he's handsome (though he is) and not because he sleeps with them (he doesn't), but because he treats them with an attentiveness and respect that borders on quiet reverence. He is, in short, the unselfconscious embodiment of a perfect gentleman. These qualities define his private life, as well, spent in an equally busy home in which he harbors his hard-drinking, soon-to-be-divorced sister-in-law (Laura Dern), her girls, his own daughters (conspiracy theorist Tara Reid and soon-to-be-married second-string Cowboys cheerleader Kate Hudson), and wife Farrah Fawcett, all blonde, bejeweled, and perfect. Aside from hunting expeditions with golfing buddies, Gere is surrounded at all times by women, and he prefers it that way. But when Fawcett suffers a breakdown in the form of a nude romp through the fountain at the local mall (in front of the Godiva chocolate shop), life begins to fall apart at an alarming rate. Her diagnosis with the dubious-sounding "Hestia Complex" (caused by too much domestic perfection) causes Gere to question much of what he's come to value, as does a new friendship with self-sufficient, semi-retired pro golfer Helen Hunt. No one handles a large cast quite like Altman, and here he's been given a great one, rounded out by some unlikely but welcome supporting players (Shelley Long, Andy Richter, Janine Turner). His assured direction, as might be predicted, keeps his ensemble from becoming unwieldy and corrals it toward some unforgettable setpieces. If the film as a whole isn't always quite so assured, it rarely matters. Elements of sitcoms and soap operas float around inside Dr. T and come floating to the surface in its weakest moments, while Lyle Lovett's generally pleasant score occasionally emphasizes moments a bit too sharply. But Dr. T offers little else about which to complain, even if it doesn't immediately assert itself as one of Altman's best. A well-measured performance by Gere creates a portrait of the ideal man for a time and place that's fast collapsing and the perfect counterpoint for a version of femininity that, perhaps thankfully, is fast disappearing. Gere also serves as the center for a much broader look at gentility and its discontents, which may sound like familiar territory for Altman, but a slight shift in attitude makes all the difference. While Cookie's Fortune offered a villain in Glenn Close, there's not an object of contempt in sight here, just a group of people—all portrayed with an unmistakable fondness—whose greatest offense is a misguided sense of self-importance. Blame Altman's newfound gentleness, or credit it. Or simply enjoy it while it continues to yield films as richly enjoyable as this one.