This movie is a well-crafted slice of life that is too painfully realistic to be enjoyable and concerns people who are so pathetically stuck that all you want to do is scream at them to get off the pity pot and go see a good action flick. If the characters in The Secret Lives of Dentists had some heroic role models to inspire them, they might not be so boring. The only motivation you’ll have after seeing this film, however, is to look at your mate and yell, “Floss, dammit! I don’t want to have to make you an appointment to see a dentist!”
David Hurst (Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger) is the type of man some women want — he keeps himself in shape, shares household duties, cleans up the yard, is a patient father of three little maniac daughters, and makes enough money to pay for a big house, two cars and a big cabin in the woods. Most important — at least to him — is that he is a faithful husband. Dana (Hope Davis All About Schmidt), his wife of 10 years, is also a dentist with whom he shares a dental practice.
Between running their business and raising their family, the Hursts find little time to nurture their relationship or pursue passionate interests. Dana expresses her dissatisfaction. “I had thought marriage would be expansive,” she says, “but it became insular.” But David doesn’t hear her grief; he merely waxes apologetic. “I’m sorry I’m me,” he whines, the classic passive-aggressive mantra that drives her nuts. Every time Dana tries to express something deep (and, to her credit, she does try), David detours the discussion into the mundane, forcing Dana to capitulate in frustration. Thus David is the victor of the moment, but the loser in the marriage.
Dana seeks adventure by singing with a local opera group. Alas, the passion of the opera seems to spawn an affair with an undisclosed fellow music lover. The more David detects the telltale signs of Dana’s infidelity, the more he remembers their own sexual history, embellishing his memories with sexual fantasies involving her and his attractive assistant, Robin Tunney (In-Laws).
As his anxiety escalates, David’s psyche creates a dangerous alter ego, Slater (Dennis Leary, Final), who expresses the male rage and cynicism that David represses. Throughout the entire movie, David refuses to confront Dana about the affair. “If I let her tell me about it,” he explains. “I’ll have to do something!” Meaning he’ll have to take action that will inevitably lead to the dissolution of the safe life he has worked so hard to attain. Even so, he longs for a wife who will “look at me with desire instead of regret.” (Well, dude — duh — do something sexy, for crying out loud!)
Should you see Secret Lives? Well, if you’re a fan of director Alan Rudolph (Trouble in Mind from 1986 is my favorite of his films), go ahead, because you won’t be surprised by Rudolph’s unique ability to make a movie with good writing and great actors that still leaves you feeling empty.
But if you don’t know Rudolph’s films, then see this one only if you’re single — or else so happily married that uncomfortable questions about fidelity and trust don’t disturb you.
<*R> –reviewed by Marci Miller<$>