"I have arrived at the age of grief."
Obviously, dental trips are not exactly selling points for a film. Steve Martin found this out when "Novocaine" failed to make much of an impression with audiences. However, "Secret Lives of Dentists" is something different and interesting. It takes denistry and uses it as the jumping off point for other things in life. The film focuses on David Hurst (Scott Campbell), a dentist who starts the film with a discussion on dentistry that, essentially says, the worst thing for teeth is what they encounter in everyday life.
His wife Dana (Hope Davis) is also a dentist in the joint practice, and the two have three terribly bratty children (including one who's fond of smacking her parents) and a very nice house. Then, when the family goes to watch Dana's performance in "Nabucco", he sees her flirting with another man. Yet, he says nothing, allowing his suspicions to simmer and worrying that saying something about it all will destroy what the two have built together. Nagging him on his something of an alter ego: Slater (Dennis Leary), an abrasive and irritated patient who starts off as a patent and turns into his surreal, dryly funny conscience (when driving his daughters around, Slater comments, "So...you're kind of like...the mommy?").
Where most films would turn towards arguements and Big Emotional Moments, "Secret Lives of Dentists" is something entirely different, showing what happens when people don't say what's on their mind and their relationship suffers because of it. The other interesting angle of the film is that we only get one angle: Dave's - we're never sure whether or not his suspicions are true about his wife's infidelity until the end of the picture.
Scott and Davis, two terrific actors (see also Davis in the recent "American Splendor"), go along with the more subtle nature of the movie and the film benefits deeply from that choice. The performances are moving and real, fun and moving, as they really portray a couple in a crisis neither is willing to fully admit. Leary is, as per usual, edgy and sharp-witted in his vicious delivery of some of the film's best lines. Some of Leary's fantasy sequences are a bit much (Leary and Dave's assistant (Robin Tunney) playing "Fever"), but the addition of the Slater character as sort of the "devil on Dave's shoulder" largely works.
The source material (apparently, the film was based on a novella called "The Age of Grief") is a little thin, but director Alan Rudolph (coming off the disasterous "Trixie") is able to get excellent performances out of his actors (although they're all terrific to begin with - especially Scott, who is terribly underrated) and bring depth to the characters, while also balancing drama and dark comedy surprisingly well. A bizarre, well-written and very enjoyable indie.
VIDEO: Columbia/Tristar presents "Secret Lives of Dentists" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an alright presentation from the studio. Sharpness and detail are perfectly fine, as the picture appears crisp and clear throughout much of the film, yet there are still moments of softness, such as some low-light sequences.
If it weren't for the issues spotted in several scenes, this would have been quite a nice transfer. Some specks, marks and inconsistent grain are occasionally visible on the print used, while slight instances of compression artifacts are noticed on a few occasions. Some light edge enhancement is also apparent here-and-there. Colors are largely well-rendered, as the more vivid tones that occasionally show through the more naturalistic color palette didn't seem smeary or otherwise problematic.
SOUND: Columbia/Tristar presents "Secret Lives of Dentists" in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is largely dialogue-driven, with cleanly recorded and natural-sounding dialogue. The surrounds kick in occasionally for light reinforcement of the music and sound effects during a sequence where Slater and Dave are taking Dave's mower for a spin through the woods. Aside from that, the rear speakers are largely quiet. Dialogue remained crisp and seemed well-recorded throughout.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a wise-cracking commentary from director Alan Rudolph and actor/producer Campbell Scott. The two do offer some insight into the production and characters, but often joke about some of the situations that came up during shooting and about themselves. The two have a good, friendly chemistry that carries throughout the track, as there's hardly a pause of silence to be found.
Also included are: a brief blooper reel (not terribly funny), deleted scenes (4-1/2 minutes worth, trailers for other Columbia/Tristar titles and a 26-minute "Sundance Channel: Anatomy of a Scene" documentary, which focuses on the sequence where Dave sees Dana with the other man and talks about adapting the novel and the Opera sequence in general.
Final Thoughts: "Secret Lives of Dentists" proved to be an unusual and entertaining indie comedy/drama. It takes a more subtle, realistic approach to the family/fidelity drama at the film's core then most films, yet adds another level with the film's occasional surreal moments and dark humor. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition offers a few good supplements, average video quality and fine audio. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2