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Make sure you have you have your kitchen chores done before you watch The Secret Lives of Dentists. A drama set in a TDTD family (two dentists, three daughters), it has countless scenes involving food preparation, eating, and clean-up. I'd hate to have a sink full of dishes waiting for me afterward.
With some of the most grueling dental scenes since Marathon Man, in addition to all the housework and a lot of vomiting (sounds like a hard sell), Dentists tends to go off-topic for long periods.
The topic is what happens to a marriage after 10 years and three kids. David (Campbell Scott) doesn't realize he takes Dana (Hope Davis) for granted until he sees another man kissing her in a way that arouses his suspicion and makes him start watching his watch whenever they're not together.
David's first response is to run over the good times in his mind, starting when they met in college. Later, those thoughts are replaced by fantasies of his wife in the arms of everyone they know, including his assistant, Laura (Robin Tunney). But he takes no action.
His reasoning is that if he confronts Dana about her suspected infidelity they'll "have to do something about it," while if he lets the affair run its course, "maybe we can save our marriage."
But David has a dark side, and here's where The Secret Lives of Dentists gets cinematic. A truculent patient, Mr. Slater (Denis Leary), who was recently thrown out by his own wife, becomes an ever-present fantasy figure, encouraging David toward confrontation, desertion, murder– whatever.
In the office the real Slater, a horny trumpeter, tries to hit on Laura, who blows him off with, "I'm waiting for a man who takes really good care of his teeth, which I can tell you don't."
About halfway through, the film takes a detour that's interesting at first, showing how even a major crisis can be sidelined by a bout of the flu. In the five days the illness takes to run through the whole family, the movie becomes a comedy. Even Slater's irritating sarcasm turns funny.
When things finally get back on track it's like you're watching television and it's hard to get interested in the show again because there was too long a commercial break (brought to you by children's Advil, in this case) or pledge break. Things are wrapped up rather quickly before the story has time to regain its former momentum.
The Secret Lives of Dentists was adapted by playwright Craig Lucas from the novella The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley.
Director Alan Rudolph gets excellent performances from Scott and Davis and uses Leary well in his customary persona. He also makes excellent music choices, with opera, jazz, rock, folk and classical mixing to good effect with an original score by Gary DeMichele.
Although the family problems in The Secret Lives of Dentists could happen to anyone, the film makes the point that dentists don't just inflict pain, they feel it too. The way the mini-comedy interrupts the maxi-drama keeps this from being Rudolph's crowning achievement, but it still beats a real trip to the dentist.