2 Hrs., 1 Min.
Dr. T & the Women
ullivan Travis (Richard Gere), a silver fox of a doctor, is always surrounded by women. He and his dizzy wife Kate (Farrah Fawcett) are parents to two honeysuckle blondes, Dee Dee (Kate Hudson) and Connie (Tara Reid), who’re grown but tend to hang around like high school wallflowers in the library circa lunch time. Kate’s flip-haired sister, Peggy (Laura Dern,) is always meddling, usually bringing her stringy-haired twin girls with her. And his workplace is practically a zoo: he’s the most popular gynecologist in his Texan town, and his schedule is always booked; his patients, as well as his lady front-desk clerks, all seem to be in love with him judging by how frantically
they try to snag his attention whenever possible.
When we hear that someone as darkly handsome an actor as Gere’s playing a gynecologist named Dr. T, we presume we’re in for some sort of melodrama in which we’re going to be transported to a land of women where extramarital affairs are rampant and where the name of the game’s scuzz. Half Red Shoe Diaries (1992-’97), half Days of Our Lives (1965-present) maybe. Yet that isn’t the case here. Written by Ann Rapp and directed by the titanous Robert Altman, Dr. T & the Women (2000) is a rather sprawling black comedy depicting the quasi-downfall of one of the most successful men of his kind – and how the women in his life help define him.
The movie begins in chaos. After sitting through a typical morning in Dr. T’s office – which involves lots of screeching WASPs loudly asking receptionists when the cute doctor’ll be available – we witness a mental break. Kate, Peggy, Connie, and Dee Dee go to the mall to shop for the latter’s upcoming wedding, and they leave it changed. Kate, having long been a trophy who hasn’t done much else besides be loving and be loved, wanders off and publicly loses her mind. She strips off her clothes and does something of a tribal dance in the facility’s food court-bound coin fountain.
Psychiatrists say that this is the result of Kate having a “Hestia complex,” which typically affects wealthy women who crack up because their brains can’t process how they’ve become a less mournful living embodiment of “Lucky” by Britney Spears. She’s institutionalized and seems incurable. The longer she stays, the worse she appears to get, and Dr. T’s visits don’t seem to help things, either.
Time passes, and the man starts furtively romancing Bree (Helen Hunt), a local golf instructor so charming, we ourselves immediately come to think she's the greatest thing since bagged chips. Other substories are covered. We spend time with Connie, who’s a tour guide at the Conspiracy Museum and possesses the kind of self-assurance that makes us think her dad’s never much had to worry about her. We also get to know Dee Dee, who’s a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and actually a closeted lesbian in love with a woman named Marilyn (Liv Tyler). Peggy runs around and frets. Dr. T’s secretary, Carolyn (Shelley Long), imagines a parallel universe in which she and her sexy boss are long-married. Sometimes, there are breaks in the stories that orbit around our protagonist going hunting with his macho pals.
Dr. T & the Women never says much about anything; it’s so naturalistic that it’s trivial, so infatuated with its own nervous energy that it never crafts any sort of dramatic tension. But it’s effective at developing a buzzy comedic world where all the characters seem to be keeping themselves busy essentially to prevent themselves from losing their minds. And its female characters are interesting ones, lived-in even if Rapp never quite provides them with the most compelling of storylines. Gere’s oddly the weakest link: he’s handsome, sure, but what else makes women love him so much? Who cares – every other femme dancing around his every move is so immediately engaging, she could be photographed sitting alone with her thoughts and we’d be riveted.
I imagine, then, that Dr. T & the Women will be best enjoyed by Altman aficionados. Mainstream audiences might recognize him courtesy of the masterpieces M*A*S*H* (1970), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), and Gosford Park (2001), though deep cut-dependent fans might think of him more for McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), 3 Women (1977), and A Prairie Home Companion (2006), too. Dr. T & the Women is one of his lesser films, a romp which contains all the most recognizable characteristics of his filmography without anything ever really sticking. It’s goofy and enjoyable, really – just maybe for those who know Altman almost as well as the back of their hand. Anyone else’ll likely think it’s too weightless, meandering. The “F” CinemaScore speaks for itself. B