The well-known Cole Porter song "The
Physician" relates the complaint of a young woman infatuated with her
doctor. The latter is properly impressed with her various anatomical
perfections--detailed by Porter in a dizzying series of lyrics originally
written for the inimitable Gertrude Lawrence, who left behind a couple of
renditions on disk--but, nevertheless, each stanza ends with the sad refrain
"But he never said he loved me." Robert Altman's new film presents
this predicament from the point of view of doctor rather than that of the patient.
Travis-- truly done to a "T" by the toothsome Richard Gere, aided by
some excellent ensemble playing--is an ob-gyn specialist in Dallas who owes his
success with his patients to a highly polished bedside manner. But the good
doctor refuses to take advantage of this situation and remains solidly faithful
to his wife of many years, Kate (Farrah Fawcett).
Unfortunately, about ten minutes into the action
Kate goes out of her mind quite publicly, stripping off her clothes and dancing
in a fountain in a fancy shopping mall. But her collapse is only the beginning of Dr.
T's travails which will lead him into a fruitless affair with the golf pro Bree
(Helen Hunt) as well as the
traumatic discovery--for him--that his daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson), who
is set to marry an all-American drip, is a lesbian when she runs off with her
lover on her wedding day. Obviously, this is the
kind of material that could be become drearily serious all too quickly, but
Altman and his screenwriter, Anne Rapp, present Dr.
T and the Women as a gynecological farce set in
the nation's capital of conspicuous consumption--a locale which provides
Altman plenty of material for a satirical commentary on upper class life in
the Lone Star state.
Kate is diagnosed by her doctors as suffering
from a Hestia complex; her husband seems to be suffering from what might be
termed a Diana complex. Early in the movie, the doctor rashly tells his locker
room buddies that all women are sacred to him. Nevertheless, this declaration
is belied by the opening shot which shows him pursuing his professional duties
by spying on the private parts of the goddess he claims to worship. He sees
only what is in front of his eyes and sees not what might lie beyond. Like
Actaeon, Dr. T is going to be punished for his presumption--but with a series
of pratfalls that land him on his face,
rather than by being transformed into a stag and torn to death by his own dogs.
Farce often brings characters down to Earth, and Altman
does this at the conclusion of Dr. T and the Women in what amounts to a parody/inversion of
one of the most well-known scenes in The Wizard
of Oz. Just while Dr. T is driving down the road in a state of despair after
all his reverses of fortune, a cyclone whirls him into space and brings him back
down not on the yellow brick road that leads to the Emerald City, but in a rural
area where a Latina woman living in an impoverished settlement is about to give
birth surrounded by her friends. The doctor arrives
just in the nick of time to do what he does best--to bring new life into the
world instead of pretending to be able to fathom the mysteries of the opposite
Like Altman's previous film, Cookie's
Fortune, Dr. T and the Women is a quite relaxed work in
which potential disaster is averted through a series of comic events.
Directors today keep trying to revive the spirit of the great screwball
comedies of the 1930s in vain, but Altman succeeds where they fail without any
apparent effort at all, especially in the brilliantly choreographed scenes in
the waiting room of Dr. T's office, evoking the memory of similarly
choreographed scenes in George Cukor's masterpiece, The Women (1940). No
profound statement about the nature of human existence, Dr. T and the Women is
"only" a highly
entertaining motion picture--which means that it's better than 99% of the
American movies that came out in 2000. And
just for the record, the striking photography is by Jan Kiesser.