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With: Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Tara Reid, Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler
Written by: Anne Rapp
Directed by: Robert Altman
MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity and some sexuality
Running Time: 122
Date: 09/12/2000
IMDB

Dr. T and the Women (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Unfair Sex

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It begins in an unbelievable cacophony; a tempest of noise. Those of us who like to read opening credits are distracted by the overwhelming sound of the waiting room. All these women, many blonde, most rich, and all Texans, are waiting to see one man: Dr. Travis Sullivan, otherwise known as Sully, otherwise known as Dr. T.

Dr. T is a true admirer of women. He loves women of all kinds. He is stricken when his lovely wife Kate (Farah Fawcett) suddenly regresses to a childlike state and is put away in an institution. His oldest daughter (Kate Hudson) is about to get married but still has issues to deal with in the form of her bridesmaid (Liv Tyler). His youngest daughter (Tara Reid) is a JFK conspiracy buff who leads tours in their hometown of Dallas, Texas. His drunken sister-in-law (Laura Dern, in a very funny performance) has just moved into his house with her three young kids. And his head nurse (Shelley Long) is very attracted to him and very annoying. Dr. T has an infinite amount of patience at his disposal to help him deal with these things. But all that changes when he meets the new golf pro, Bree (Helen Hunt). (Altman veteran Lyle Lovett does not appear here, but supplies several lovely songs.)

Thus is the world of Dr. T and the Women, the new multi-character piece from American master Robert Altman. Written by Cookie's Fortune scribe Anne Rapp, Dr. T and the Women, partly resembles that movie, with bits of Nashville (1975) and Short Cuts (1993) thrown in. But whereas Cookie's Fortune was an easy-going and humorously laid-back murder story, Dr. T is something genuinely odd. Those who were charmed by Cookie's Fortune may be scratching their heads at this one, but those who are fond of Altman's darker, more biting works might like this concoction.

Surprisingly, it's Richard Gere who is the key to the movie's success. Dr. T and the Women moves at hurricane speed for most of its 122-minute running time, but Gere deliberately underplays his character, providing the calm center that the story needs. One example is a lunchtime scene in his office in which every woman in his life makes an entrance of some kind, and everything is an emergency. He was supposed to have had lunch with Bree, but is unable to get away from onslaught of angry, waiting women. The scene is a whirlwind of chatter, banging on doors, and interruptions. Gere plays the scene beautifully, on the edge of frustration, a little bewildered, but holding on to his calm facade. And behind the whole thing is Altman, conducting like Mickey Mouse in that old cartoon with the orchestra whirling around in the tornado.

Altman is one of the few American directors working today who has a signature style. You can tell from a few minutes of this film who made it. Yet his detached, observing technique has never before displayed such chaos as seen here. And so the actual control he emits from film to film comes across more clearly. It's nice to see that a director in his 70's is still willing to take on new types of material, but refuses to give up his own singular vision.

Overall, Dr. T and the Women is an old-fashioned screwball comedy, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1940's, but it's probably just a little too screwy for most people. Most other comedies today seem to be clearly explained and easy to digest. Here's one for the rest of us.