By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2000
In "Dr. T and the Women," Carolyn (Shelley Long), the long-suffering chief nurse at a gynecologist's office, puts her head
inside her boss's office door. Behind her, a perfumed herd of shrill, bickering women has gathered in the waiting room, desperate for office time with the good doctor (Richard Gere).
Don't pity the fool: Richard Gere plays Dr. T, not Mr. T, in Robert Altman's latest.
"Dr. T," Carolyn says, "I think the fillies are getting restless."
Carolyn snorts like a horse, shaking her head like an agitated Mr.
That's Robert Altman's latest movie in a nutshell: a satirical
romp at the obvious expense of upper-income Dallas women, who have
nothing better to do than amble and whinny their way through the
designer paddocks of Saks and Tiffany's.
When they're not shopping, they're nudging each other aside for the
right to spread eagle themselves before the great Dr. T., a.k.a
Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere).
He lives for them. They live for him. But there never seems to be
enough of him to go around. And with the way his personal life's going
lately, things have gotten worse.
The upcoming wedding of his cheerleader-daughter, Dee Dee (Kate
Hudson) has provoked a predictable frenzy of troubleshooting. The
Travis household is under siege, thanks to Sullivan's
champagne-tippling sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern), who has just
moved in, along with her three daughters.
To make matters worse, Sullivan's beloved wife, Kate (Farrah
Fawcett), seems to be losing her mind. One fine shopping day, she
wanders away from the Travis crowd and takes a shoeless dip in the
mall's ornamental pool in what seems to be a passing reference to the
famous water-splashing scene in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."
While nice men in white coats quietly observe Kate's new childlike
state (which they label a "Hestia complex"), Sullivan tries to get on
with his life, including the wedding, his practice and the occasional
duck hunting trip with his male buddies.
As if this pile of problems weren't enough, Sullivan becomes
interested in a golf pro named Bree (Helen Hunt). She returns the
enthusiasm. And they play a coquettish flirtation game with each
other. Morally, the movie is forcing Dr. T. into a corner where
extramarital relief seems justified.
Will Kate regain her marbles in time for the wedding? How will the
potential affair with Bree turn out? Does that wedding stand a chance?
And what's all this sudden, kissy business between the bride-to-be and
her longtime friend, Marilyn (Liv Tyler)?
These and other questions in Altman's film have more to do with
farce than, say, social commentary. And if you skim along the surface
of this movie, you'll have more fun than if you submit the movie to
Clearly, Altman and screenwriter Anne Rapp (who also wrote
"Cookie's Fortune") are sympathetic toward their subjects; they love
these bold, colorful women. But, it's also clear they're hanging these
gals out to dry.
Winky-winky satire like this may have worked well in Altman's first
heyday, the 1970s era that included "M*A*S*H," "Nashville" and "A
Wedding." But under the brighter light of today, the filmmakers let
these gloriously attired country club women loom too large in the gun
Ultimately, "Dr. T" is the cinematic equivalent of shooting well-dressed turkeys in a barrel.
Altman and Rapp wrap things up a little too preciously. Dr. T is
supposed to be a modern Job caught in a desert (literally) of his own
making, and there's a "Short Cuts"-style rainstorm that soaks and
presumably rebaptizes everyone. But it's clear that the performers
are having a great time doing this the usual underpinning of an
Gere seems to be having the most fun of all, even though he's
playing the kind of role he normally despises. As a woman's icon, a
graying one at that, he deliberately undercuts his glamorous appeal,
as if chastising his patients and us in the audience for even
considering him this way. As Dr. T, his whole role seems to be
something of an inside joke, from the way these women worship him to
the silly duck camaflouge he wears on those duck hunting trips. This
is where the subtextual winking works best in Gere's self-deprecating
smirks and grimaces; not in the resolution of a story by wind-making
"Dr. T and the Women" (R, 122 minutes) Contains sexual scenes,