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The Secret Lives of Dentists - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

"Teeth outlast everything. Death is nothing to a tooth. Life is what destroys teeth."

SITTING through a movie entitled The Secret Life of Dentists may seem as appealing as being forced to watch Dustin Hoffman's Marathon Man torture sequence on repeat play for two hours; yet, first impressions aside, this new US indie flick could well be worth sinking your teeth into.

Starring Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary, and Robin Tunney, the movie is the tale of a 'perfect couple' who reach a crossroads in their relationship.

Shifting seamlessly from humor to drama, and back again, award-winning director Alan Rudolph (Afterglow, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle) harnesses the rhythms and subtle interplays of family life to explore the mysterious bond between husbands and wives, and the secret yearnings in all of us.

Based on Jane Smiley's novella, The Age of Grief, Rudolph's film tells the story of Dr Dave Hurst (Scott), who shares three children, two homes, and a private practice with his dentist wife, Dana (Davis).

One evening, backstage at Dana's drama-club production, Dave believes he witnesses his wife in an intimate exchange with another man.

Emotionally repressed by nature, Dave's jealousy flares up in the form of a raucous alter-ego, personified by an unsatisfied patient, Slater (Denis Leary).

Slater goads the quiet dentist toward violent action, but the unraveling of the emotional bonds in Hurst's marriage is much more of a challenge than the simple threat of aggression can solve.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to widespread acclaim, while, according to the publicity at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it is a movie that is 'illuminated by superb performances by Scott and Davis', and is 'an insightful and completely human portrait of a couple caught in the myriad of small subtle mistakes, which two people make when they attempt to preserve love and passion, while accepting the inevitable compromises and banality of marriage'.

Leary, himself, described the movie as a genuinely funny, quirky experience, when he was recently in London to promote his latest UK release, Double Whammy.

And the reaction from critics in America seems to suggest that this will be well worth checking out when it opens next year.

 

US reaction

Leading the way with this critical overview is the New York Daily News, which wrote that 'it's a compassionate view of marriage and its stressors. But the filmmaker and actors do their jobs only too well. Watching Secret Lives can be as uncomfortable as sitting in the dentist's chair'.

Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, awarded it the maximum A rating, and described it as 'striking', and 'subtle'.

Village Voice stated that 'unlike the majority of movies in which a thousand digital extras are sacrificed upon the altar of commercial catharsis, The Secret Lives of Dentists gives the impression of acknowledging the existence of garden-variety human suffering'.

And the San Francisco Chronicle opined that 'the film presents a realistic and artful treatment of a subject not often dealt with in cinema - and rarely with honesty. Davis and Scott respond with heartfelt, edgy performances'.

Reel.com referred to it as 'unforgettable', while the New York Times felt that 'it's the adult tone that Mr. Rudolph brings to the movie ... that makes this picture more than a pile of nuked clichés'.

There were some negative notices, however, with the Hollywood Reporter stating that 'neither the story nor the characters exerts enough pull, and the fantasy bits are more annoying than revealing'.

The New York Post, similarly, felt that 'lacking a solid narrative beyond the worsening marital crisis, this humor-flecked domestic drama ends up relying heavily on directorial tricks such as splashes of magic realism, giving it a self-satisfied air that quickly becomes grating'.

While the Chicago Sun-Times felt that 'The Secret Lives of Dentists tries hard to be a good film, but if it had relaxed a little, it might have been great'.

But the word was generally good, with Variety stating that it is 'a nicely played study of turbulence beneath the surface of quiet lives that eventually becomes bogged down by overplaying a literary conceit'.

And USA Today wrote that it is 'an excellent adaptation of a wonderful work of fiction that sheds light on the complexities and emotional truths of married life'.

The last two words go to the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone, however.

The former wrote that the movie is 'a stylish work from an accomplished, sophisticated filmmaker that bristles with intelligence and gleams with Scott's and Davis' multifaceted, astutely judged portrayals', while the latter concluded that 'Scott and Davis could not be better. You're in for something special'.

And who said that going to the dentist couldn't be fun?

 

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