After spending the better part of his adult life in a storm of estrogen, OB-GYN Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere) is still a man in awe of women and still at a loss to understand them.
The fashionable gynecologist to every flaky high society dame in Dallas, his overbooked office waiting room is always a circus of air-kissing aristocrats in leopard print hats and feather boas.
At home he has a wife (Farrah Fawcett) who may be ready for a stay at a well-heeled asylum. Also under his roof are one slightly ditzy daughter (Kate Hudson) preoccupied with planning her deluxe wedding and another offspring (Tara Reid) who wants to throw a wrench in the works because she's suspicious of the curious influence the bourgeois maid of honor (Liv Tyler) seems to have over her sister.
And to top it off, Dr. T's freshly divorced lush of a sister-in-law (Laura Dern) is bunking down in his immaculate manse with her three spoiled, hyperactive little girls.
Such is the setting for "Dr. T and the Women," a capricious, celebratory fable about the dichotomy of gender from the marvelously idiosyncratic Robert Altman.
Jettisoning his smarmy, conspicuously self-cognizant charm, Richard Gere is beautifully befuddled by the perpetual enigma of womankind in his performance as Dr. T, a man genuinely esteemed of the entire female sex.
But as the movie opens, his wife's breakdown (the peculiar diagnosis: she's reverted to a childlike state from being loved too much) is about to send his whole world into tilt. Suddenly he feels overwhelmed by everything feminine in his life and even the occasional afternoon of duck hunting with his four best buddies (practically the only other males in the movie) can no longer distract him from the encroaching chaos.
So when he's at the country club one day and meets the new golf pro -- a fiercely independent woman played by Helen Hunt, who seems not to need him for anything -- he becomes enthralled, and destined for adulterous heartbreak.
Characteristically unhurried and nonchalantly wry, "Dr. T and the Women" gives oil-rich urban Texas gentry the same ridicule-meets-homage treatment Altman dealt to Hollywood in "The Player" and to small town Dixie in last year's sadly overlooked "Cookie's Fortune." And although some may interpret the movie's moderately exaggerated caricatures of women as chauvinistic (except for Hunt, they're mostly needy, fickle and insecure), that would be an unfortunate misunderstanding. The film was, after all, written by a woman -- Anne Rapp, Altman's current alter-ego (she also penned "Cookie") -- and the mischievous director simply intends to illustrate from the doctor's point of view that despite all his, shall we say, intimate experience with women, he still hasn't the vaguest idea how they tick.
Altman gleans sharp, unconventional performances from most of his gifted ensemble cast -- although Fawcett is a little overzealous in her portrayal of the loopy wife (or is it just that the casting hits too close to home?). But the film's most lasting impressions come from Gere and from Hunt, who lends an admirable everywoman authenticity to any role she plays.
"Dr. T" has the occasional credibility gap (Gere is so quick to accept one startling development you'll wonder if something wasn't left on the cutting room floor) and it has a smattering of smaller blemishes as well (I don't buy that the doctor's debutante daughters would work as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader and a Kennedy conspiracy tour guide).
But such minor contrivances are part of the Altman quintessence that builds slow-burn, eccentric humor into the minutia of his movies. And in this case they serve another purpose as well: Preparing you to properly enjoy the off-the-wall, finale of mythological proportions that proves once again no other filmmaker in the world thinks like the subtly whimsical Robert Altman.
Production compaines: Sandcastle 5 Productions, Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Richard Gere as Dr. T, Helen Hunt as Bree, Liv Tyler as Marilyn, Kate Hudson as Dee Dee, Farrah Fawcett as Kate, Laura Dern as Peggy, Shelley Long as Carolyn, Tara Reid as Connie, Robert Hays as Harlan, Matt Malloy as Bill, Andy Richter as Eli, Lee Grant as Dr. Harper, Janine Turner as Dorothy Chambliss, Sarah Shahi as Cheerleader Extra (uncredited)