“Dr. T and the Women” takes the viewer through several emotions. First you wait patiently, perhaps smilingly, as things start to get underway and the general tone is one of humor and whimsy. Then you get bored when you realize you’re well into the film and still nothing has happened. Then you get angry at the thought that the movie seems to be doing this on purpose, intentionally taunting you with misogyny, sexism and sheer thundering dullness. Finally, you’re furious at the film’s stupid, nauseating ending, and you storm out of the theater with your fists clenched, hoping that director Robert Altman is making a surprise personal appearance at your local multiplex so you can punch him in the face.
Apparently shot in real time over a period of several years, “Dr. T and the Women” is about a Dallas gynecologist named Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere). Dr. T worships and honors womanhood, and it’s a good thing, as he’s surrounded by ladies. He has a wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett), a conspiracy-theory daughter Connie (Tara Reid) and an about-to-be-married cheerleader daughter DeeDee (Kate Hudson). His sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) has just moved into the house with her three little girls. His entire office staff is women (including Shelley Long as an assistant who serves to remind us how funny Long was on “Cheers,” and how long ago that was). And of course there are the patients, dozens of them, all of them upset at having to wait so long to see Dr. T, but apparently not mad enough to find another, less busy gynecologist.
Early on, Kate goes quite insane, removes all her clothing, and prances about in a mall. (Actually, I suspect this may be surveillance-camera footage of Farrah Fawcett at an actual shopping mall. But I kid the insane old woman!) Dr. T is apparently distraught at his wife having to be put in a mental institution, and he displays his suffering by having an affair with Dallas newcomer Bree (Helen Hunt).
And there are problems with DeeDee’s upcoming wedding, particularly in regards to her maid-of-honor, Marilyn (Liv Tyler).
All of this is meant to suggest the breaking down of Dr. T’s woman-based world, but the simple fact is, this is a movie where nothing happens. Altman allows his actors to improvise, which in this case was a bad idea. Much of the dialogue SOUNDS improvised, and not in the “it sounds good because it’s natural” kind of way. Quite the opposite: It’s uninteresting and stilted, sounding like the actors are trying really, really hard to improvise. (“Bob told us to improvise! What do we do? What do we do?! Um … do you … like … stuff?”)
Then there’s the acting. Or, more accurately, then there ISN’T the acting. Altman likes to cram his films full of stars, and this one is bursting at the seams with talented people. The result is that none of them are given enough time to do anything with their characters, a problem only complicated by Anne Rapp’s script, which downplays the actual plot points and gives more time to people sitting around talking about boring things.
Even Gere, who has plenty of screen time and is usually a solid actor, is positively blank as Dr. T. The problems in his life barely seem to register in his mind, and Gere’s performance is a wash-out. All the women’s problems merely make women look bad, like a bunch of ditzy boneheads, from the insane Kate to the drunken stumble-bum Peggy. (Why is Peggy a drunk? The issue is never even MENTIONED, let alone dealt with.)
In short, there is never anything in the film to make you want to keep watching it. Not one thing about it is compelling or engaging. But the infuriating thing is, this pretentious piece of garbage actually thinks you WILL want to watch it! The movie is completely satisfied with itself, entirely confident in its merits, which aren’t there.
It’s one thing for a film to be bad and be quiet about it. But when it’s touted as a ROBERT ALTMAN FILM! with an ALL-STAR CAST!, it sets a higher standard for itself — a standard that, in this case, it utterly fails to live up to.
And then there’s the ending. Artisan Entertainment is playing up the film’s odd conclusion as a big twisty sort of surprise. I guess you’d call it a surprise. You know how you can have a dream where you’re in your house doing something, and then all of a sudden, instead of in your house, you’re at Arby’s, still doing the same thing? That’s a “surprise,” technically, but only because it’s a dream, and there are no rules. There are evidently no rules in this movie, either, as the last scene is “surprising” in that same way, not to mention gross-out nauseating — the capper on a movie that, for two hours prior, practically dares you to get up and leave. Do yourself a favor and don’t bother sitting down to begin with.
F (2 hrs., 1 min.; )
In 2011, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.