Dr. T And The Women

Laura Clifford
Robin Clifford

Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere) is on top of his professional game. He is a rich, successful Dallas gynecologist who happens to adore, even worship, women. They are all around him all the time, at work and at home. But, his success means he is constantly overbooked and he is showing the signs of the strain. At home, his wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett), is regressing into a childlike state of mind, his daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson) is getting married, and his champagne-guzzling sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) has moved in with her three young daughters. Suitably overwhelmed, Dr. T spends more and more time at the country club where he meets pretty, easy-going golf pro, Bree (Helen Hunt), in Robert Altman's "Dr. T & the Women."

Robert Altman always puts his imprint on his films, sometimes to an intensely notable degree as in "Nashville" and "Three Women." In the former, the helmer moves his large ensemble cast around like a master chessman. In the latter film, he delves closely into the lives of his title characters as a study of women. With "Dr.T," Altman goes more conventional as he tells his tale (from a screenplay by Anne Rapp ("Cookie's Fortune")) about a man who loves women.

Dr. T, as he is fondly called by his growing throng of patients and his office staff, has it all. He's a man who considers women saints and that each and every one is special. This attitude spreads among the wealthier women of Dallas and they all clamor for an appointment with the man that gives good exam. As the increased business puts pressure on the overworked doc, his family life is unraveling, too. Sully has lived his adult life for the purpose of raising and supporting his all-female family. This need to be needed has been a cornerstone of his life, giving him a reason to be.

Cracks are opening in this facade as his elder daughter Dee Dee goes full bore with her wedding plans while seeking a career as a professional cheerleader. Younger daughter Connie (Tara Reid) is deeply involved in The Conspiracy Museum in Dallas and is devoted to proving the real details of JFK's death. The final straw for Sully occurs when his wife, Kate, has a breakdown of sorts and walks naked through the fountain at the local mall. Kate's doctor (Lee Grant) diagnoses her condition as "Hestia complex" where she reverts to a childlike state and rejects the physical love of Sully. Sister-in-law Peggy complicates things even more with her invasion into Sully's life with her kids and her not-so-in-the-closet drinking problem.

Dr. T's life becomes a shambles and he seeks solace in his hunting expeditions with his buddies. Things seem to change for the better when he meets golf pro Bree and the two begin a romance that eases things a bit for the harried doctor. But, the trouble in paradise is hardly over when Kate demands a divorce and Connie declares that her sister is having a lesbian relationship with maid of honor, Marilyn (Liv Tyler.)

Director Altman takes a step back from his grander efforts, like "Kansas City," and rolls his sleeves up to tackle the humorous character study of one man who, with all his heart, loves women. Richard Gere plays the part of the good-looking physician with initially relaxed charm, but shows the burden and strain as the life he loves falls down around him. His marvelous "bedside manner" and ability to listen, really listen, to his family, friends and patients allows Gere to come across quite well.

Surrounding the actor is a bevy of name actresses that reminds me of George Cukor's 1939 classic, "The Women." Farrah Fawcett gives a small, but significant perf as the troubled Kate. Hudson and Reid are amusing as the spoiled rich kids who are leaving the nest for their own independent lives. Laura Dern is sadly comic as the in-law with a drinking problem that only she fails see. Shelley Long, as Dr. T's loyal head nurse Carolyn who has a crush on her boss, is outstanding as she runs the patients in and out, juggles an unwieldy appointment schedule and nurtures the good doctor through his strife. Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt, as the independent Bree, gives a confidant, easy-going performance. Sully's friends, Harlan (Robert Hayes), Bill (Matt Malloy) and Eli (Andy Richter), are background characters only. The action is almost totally dominated by the women, with Dr. T more the observer than participant.

Production values are slick, right from the opening, under the credits, of a busy day at the doctor's office. A single, long camera shot, a mainstay of Altman, following each of the patients and personnel, keeps the eye visually amused at the comings and goings of the many women in Sully's life. Other Altman touches, like the disastrous wedding sequence, are interspersed through the otherwise straightforward story. The elegant costuming for the wealthy women of Dallas makes a classy fashion statement.

Although "Dr.T & the Woman" is just over two hours long, it is briskly paced and entertaining throughout. There are a couple of amusing twists at the end of the film with one surprise sequence that I can pretty much say has not been as graphically shown in any mainstream American film that I have ever seen. Someone else may tell you what it is, but I won't. The near tragedy of the ending is nicely warped around to give the film its final, upbeat finish. Altman seems to be having fun with his latest work and I give it a B.

Robert Altman is one of the great American film directors. He's developed a unique style, creating slices of life with large ensemble casts whose stories interweave and bustling scenes where one can follow several strands of overlapping dialogue.

With "Dr. T and the Women," Altman, again collaberating with screenwriter Anne Rapp ("Cookie's Forturn") gives us one of his more middling creations.

The film opens in Dr. T's office, which is in a state of chaos. Office manager Carolyn (Shelley Long) is almost winning a losing battle, keeping Houston society's elite ladies moving through three wittily named examining rooms. Dr. T's home life is also coming undone as his beloved but mentally unbalanced wife Kate (Farrah Fawcett) jumps nude into shopping mall fountains while his eldest daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson, "Almost Famous") plans her wedding. His alcoholic sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) has also moved into his manse with her three young daughters.

Dr. T relaxes on hunting and golfing trips with three male buddies, but even the country club is invaded when a new golf pro, Bree (Helen Hunt), arrives and sets her cap for him.

Anne Rapp's fantastical script drips with female symbolism, from Kate's diagnosed Hestia complex to the constant water references which culminate in a fateful storm. However, only a few of the characters manage to make themselves stand out admist the throng.

Gere is fine as the sympathetic gynecologist being trampled by life and hordes of females. He's softer than usual here and it befits his character nicely. Fawcett is quite good reverting to a childlike state. Laura Dern is a real standout as the champagne guzzling whirlwind who plays at motherhood (Dr. T's maid Maria (Irene Cortez) is the one who really keeps Peggy's girls in control). Shelley Long gives a wonderful comic performance as Dr. T's right hand woman who's maybe too happy to hear about his marital woes. Janine Turner (TV's "Northern Exposure," "Cliffhanger") makes a welcome return to the screen as Dorothy, a serial patient who makes appointments only to get the reassurance she doesn't get from her husband (one of Dr. T's hunting pals).

Neither Kate Hudson nor Tara Reid make much of an impression as Dr. T's daughters, although Altman vet Liv Tyler fares a bit better as a suspect maid of honor. Helen Hunt makes a convincing golf pro and down to earth romantic foil for Gere.

However, why would the faithful Dr. T allow himself to be so quickly seduced after we learn that Kate's Hestia complex is suffered by 'women who are loved too much?' An amusing sideline is developed between Dorothy and an elderly woman in Dr. T's waiting room, but when the woman trips Dorothy with her cane, Dorothy blames the incident on Dr. T - nonsensical. The finale, which could be viewed as either a return to the womb or homage to "The Wizard of Oz," is pretty bizarre. The film could even be seen as misogynistic. The women are constantly presented as babbling hens (none of Altman's overlapping dialog here - instead we get a maelstrom of cackle!) whether in the waiting room, getting dress fittings or at a wedding shower.

Altman also makes a couple of visual puns using store signs (he pans up to the Godiva sign as Kate frolicks nude), but they seem out of place when the device isn't carried through. Big kudos to costume designer Dona Granata ("Cookie's Fortune"), however, whose work really helps define the characters and adds comic touches. Altman's son Stephen's production design nails the lifestyle of a wealthy Houston doctor and his pampered clients.


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