The Secret Lives of Dentists

Bainbridge Island director Alan Rudolph started out in Robert Altman's shadow, but these days, it's Rudolph who outshines his mentor. Dedicated to taking risky rides on crooked roads, Rudolph takes some of his most stomach-churning chances in this meticulously realistic yet luridly fantastic adaptation of Jane Smiley's tale of a pair of dentists raising a trio of daughters while their marriage burns down around them (it's on disc Jan. 27). The way Campbell Scott and Hope Davis sensitively play it, you can hear deafening howls of agony in their merest sigh, murmur, gesture, and glance.

Dentists is wickedly funny, too. As the insightful commentary by Scott and Rudolph notes, the movie comprises four kinds of scenes: quotidian family life (which nobody has captured better); flashbacks to the couple's passionate dental-school days; hallucinatory glimpses into the husband's angry id (personified by troglodytic Denis Leary) and his mind's-eye view of his wife's supposed orgies; and stage scenes of the wife actually performing in Verdi's Nabucco. She seems to be having an affair; his idea of dealing with it is avoiding all discussion, screaming at her in his mind, and weed-whacking his backyard into submission—he's half-heroic, half-ridiculous. Davis plays the mysterious, alienated missus as if she exists in a skew plane, intimately close yet unconnected with his.

Male and female viewers have disparate, visceral responses, Scott recalls on the commentary. At Sundance, watching the scene where the wife returns from what may have been a tryst and asks the husband how the kids are, the man sitting behind Davis hissed, "Fucking bitch!" "Hope was freaked out," says Scott. "She wanted to say, 'What about this passive-aggressive horror she's married to? You can't say this woman is an evil person!" Davis gave the dentists about two more weeks; Rudolph thought they'd stay married forever—"because at least they're still not talking about it!"

—Tim Appelo

Leading the Pack for Feb. 3 are American Splendor and Lost in Translation, both of which we'll review shortly. On their heels: a two-disc reissue of Planet of the Apes (sorry, no Heston commentary); Under the Tuscan Sun; Oscar nominees Johnny Depp and Bill Murray in 1993's Ed Wood (with Tim Burton commentary and other extras on its DVD debut); and Secondhand Lions.


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