The Secret Lives of Dentists

Starring: Campbell Scott, Hope Davis and Denis Leary
Tartan DVD
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3527
Certificate: 15
Available 23 January 2006

David Hurst and his wife seem to have it all, a good upper middle-class lifestyle supported by their joint dental practice. However, David starts to suspect that his wife is having an affair. In his effort to confront the situation in his most non-confrontational manner he only succeeds in wrapping himself up in tighter knots of anger and resentment, culminating in a week when the family are trapped in the house together suffering from the flu...

Independent film really is where all the good stuff is coming from these days. The Secret Lives of Dentists, is a little gem that appears to have been overlooked on the big screen. Directed by Alan Rudolph and adapted by Craig Lucas from the original novel The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley, The Secret Lives of Dentists is a witty portrayal of one mans decent into his own personal purgatory - though he's not the only one. As an aside, apparently the age of grief is thirty-eight, that squarely puts me into the age of unremitting despair, guess it really was all downhill from twenty-two.

Collectively, the Hurst's want it all, none of this life/work balance for them. Dana Hurst fills her days with her dental practice, her evenings either engaged with her amateur opera group or trying to juggle being a mother to three children - who appear to have started an early career as neurotics exhibiting psychosomatic illnesses.

The space between her and her husband is exemplified by a scene where she even has to ask David if he likes her or would even want to know her if they were not sleeping together. Even their dental practice stands as a metaphor for their lives, always separated by a brick wall. It is in this space that David starts to fill his free moments with his own brand of insecure madness. They have so filled their lives up that all that has resulted is a vacuum where their marriage should exist.

As an audience we never really find out if David's wife is cheating and to be honest it's fairly immaterial to the plot. This really is the story of a man who has subsumed his own wants, desires, hates and prejudices under a veneer of being a thoughtful man. David has created a space not only between himself and his wife, but between himself and his real identity. His last chance is to listen to his acerbic fantasy patient, Slater, played by Denis Leary, who represents everything that David denies about himself; Slater is his inner rage, his own Tyler Durden. Just as in Fight Club David starts to transform through listening to his alter-ego.

There are some very funny scenes in the film; David fantasises what it means to throw your wife out for infidelity. I'm sure, at some point, we've all wanted to see partners flying through the air in that manner. Hey, it made me laugh out loud.

Campbell Scott is great in the role of David; every nuance of his internal descent into madness is played out on his face with exquisite subtleness. Denis Leary plays... well, Denis Leary. So, his performance really depends on whether you like his style - though I think he was an inspired choice for the role. Best of all is Robin Tunney. You can really tell, just by looking at the actress, that internally here is a woman who is so close to giving up on life as being just a bad idea. She portrays Laura Hurst as a woman whose dreams are quickly turning to dust, as her husband's behaviour becomes more and more erratic.

Okay, so the film in certain ways is a little too close to Fight Club, American Beauty and American Psycho for comparisons not to be drawn. Whilst all these films deal with men who subsume their own feelings in the face of society's expectations, they all have their own tone and their own place. And lets face it, if your gonna keep company, you could do worse than the company of these three films. If you liked the aforementioned movies, there is a lot in The Secret Lives of Dentists that you will just love.

Interesting, that there has been an increase in films dealing with men who feel that modern society has demasculated them. Maybe it will start a whole 'I want to be a hunter killer not a modern man' subgenre of its own.

The film comes with some good extras. The Gag reel - of course it has a gag reel, this is after all a comedy- shows just how much fun they had making the film, and is well worth a look. There's a bunch of deleted scenes which I presume were cut due to running time, as the scenes themselves are as spot on as the rest of the film. The original trailer, I think, explains why the film wasn't more successful as it misses the fact that this is a funny film and comes over as some sort of heavy European art film. Audio is stereo and 5.1 and DTS 5.1 with English subtitles for the hard of hearing.

So, it's gonna be a ten. This is a beautifully acted film, the type they used to make for adults - and in some small corners still do. Buy it, you'll love it.

Charles Packer

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