The Secret Lives of Dentists

on August 01, 2003 by Susan Green
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Few films ever get the rigors of parenthood quite right. Kids are either too cute or too smart-alecky, and adults have far too much free time on their hands. Though "The Secret Lives of Dentists" is an unlikely title for achieving authenticity on the domestic battleground, director Alan Rudolph and screenwriter Craig Lucas deliver a graceful big-screen version of Jane Smiley's novella about a couple that doesn't neglect childrearing just because the marriage is in trouble. This task is made much more feasible with the acting talents of Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, who always tend to shine in their individual indie projects.

In contrast with the dentistry duo played by Steve Martin and Laura Dern in "Novocaine," these practitioners seem as real as our next-door neighbors. Dave and Dana Hurst share an office, a suburban home, a getaway cabin the country and three very lively daughters. What more could an attractive husband and wife want? In Dana's case, it might be a romantic liaison with a member of her amateur opera troupe. Dave is suspicious. He begins to fantasize that a cantankerous patient (Denis Leary, doing a typically misanthropic Denis Leary routine) is offering him continual devilish advice unearthing the hitherto hidden dark side of this nurturing father.

The Hursts go into a tailspin. The girls become rebellious. A stomach flu hits the whole family; Dave imagines his assistant (Robin Tunney) singing like a sultry chanteuse in one feverish dream.

Rudolph matches angst with wit in a story that avoids the obvious. In voice-over narration, Dave muses on the significance of tooth decay, but these people really could be holding down any career. It's the milieu of their home that counts. Although things deteriorate there, it's possible at least some cause for optimism can be found in the embrace of offspring. Starring Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary and Robin Tunney. Directed by Alan Rudolph. Written by Greg Lucas. Produced by Campbell Scott and George Van Buskirk. A Manhattan release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for sexuality and language. Running time: 105 min.

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