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The Secret Lives Of Dentist': A Film Review

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A quiet dentist begins to suspect his expressive wife, also a dentist, is having an affair. Meanwhile, the three kids are picking up cues, and the persona of a crabby patient becomes his alternative inner voice.

The film is directed by Alan Rudolph (Breakfast of Champions, Choose Me) from a script by Craig Lucas (Reckless, Prelude to a Kiss), adapted from Jane Smiley’s novella, Age of Grief. One of the most immediate impressions from viewing the film, is that the dialogue and the performances feel like neither. For example, the husband, played by Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle), will ask the wife, played by Hope Davis (About Schmidt, Next Stop Wonderland), a question, and she won’t even reply to it. She’ll just go on about something else. In this way, the writing seems less conceived, and more captured. However, the performances are just as critical to establishing this convincing illusion. Scott and Davis have a remarkable chemistry with each other, presumably developed over the course of their previous collaborations. They do seem like a married couple. The children, often the source of atrocious acting that annihilates the illusion of the story, in this case are also astounding in their realism.

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As a character study, the film poses a fascinating question: if you suspect your wife of cheating, what do you do about it? The dentist’s inner voice, played in-scene by Denis Leary (Suicide Kings, The Ref), keeps pestering him to ask her, “Who is he?” The dentist replies that he would have to do something about it, which he is unwilling to provoke. Despite the sedate suburban milieu, the stakes are amazingly high. The dentist works with his wife at their dental practice, they have a family, a house, and a retreat in the woods. So much of his life and accomplishments are bound up with his wife, that he has to swallow his betrayal and anger. While trying to keep it all inside, it inevitably comes out. The dentist closes up even more, and plays his various roles with increased gusto. When they talk, they’re analyzing tangents of their relationship, and never the main issue. Furthermore, like animals before an earthquake, the children sense something is the matter. They react with tantrums and physical sickness to a surreal degree. In this way, the main characters communicate without talking to each other, delivering a refreshing perspective of our reality.

Whether or not one has been in this situation, the film does a subtly effective job of drawing the audience into it. Jealousy, paranoia, restraint, and obligation are all part of our lives at some point or another, whether we manifest them or are subject to them from others. Like most of Rudolph’s work, this attention to character gives the film an unusually powerful hold on the viewer, which is something that plot-driven Hollywood should take notes on.

This attention to realism in story is however a double-edged sword. The film spends several scenes charting how each of the family members passes along to the next a mystery fever, and then quixotically back again (what about antibodies?). Luckily, the film’s loyalty to realism ends there. The film’s departure from pure realism, the alternate voice provided by Denis Leary’s character, provides an entertaining and visually diverting counterbalance to the downbeat perspective and narration of the dentist.

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The Secret Lives Of Dentist’: A Film Review. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from
“The Secret Lives Of Dentist’: A Film Review.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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