This doctor knows what ails you. Sully Travis (Richard Gere) is known as “Dr. T” to the adoring upper-class women of Dallas. He is a popular gynecologist, and why not? No trying to cover your nudity with embarassing paper “gowns” that rip when you sit on the examining table for Dr. T. His patients, still attired in their jewelry and even hats, are draped in heavy linen that matches the elegant uniforms of the staff. The patients rest their feet in the mink covers that protect them from the chill of the stirrups. His busy office feels more like a pricey beauty salon than a doctor’s office, with a constant hum of murmured assurances and air kisses. One impatient patient returns over and over again because it is the only place where people tell her she is beautiful.
And Dr. T does think they are all beautiful. He loves them all, telling his shooting buddies that “by nature they are saints — they are sacred and should be treated that way.” This includes not only his patients but also the many, many women in his own life, including his wife Kate (Farrah Fawcett), his two daughters, Dee dee (Kate Hudson) and Connie (Tara Reid), and his wife’s sister Peggy (Laura Dern), who has moved in to his house with her three small daughters.
Dr. T loves to surround his women with love and care, listening to them, adoring them, and protecting them from any kind of worry. But his women are having problems he cannot solve. Kate is having a mental breakdown that appears to be caused by not having enough problems. She has retreated into childhood and must be sent to a mental hospital. Connie drives a car with a JFK license plate and conducts conspiracy theory “Grassy Knoll” tours of Dallas. Dee Dee is preparing for her wedding, but the person she is really in love with may be her maid of honor. And Peggy barely hides her sense of desperation behind slightly shrill “Love you more’s” and secret snorts of liquor.
Dr. T is attracted to a golf pro named Bree (Helen Hunt). He tries to take care of her, too, but she is very independent. She drives the golf cart — and she leads him to her bedroom. When he tells her that he wants to make sure she never has to do anything or worry about anything ever again, she says, “Why would I want that?” Dr. T must relinquish the illusion of control and remember what really matters.
It is a great pleasure to watch director Robert Altman (“M*A*S*H,” “Nashville,” and many other classic films) and his team do their stuff and the movie is richly enjoyable. The production design is spectacular, perfectly creating the world of wealthy Dallas. The acting is marvelous. Richard Gere is more relaxed and vulerable than he has ever been, and Laura Dern is sensational as the desperate divorcee in outfits that would be considered outrageous anywhere outside of Dallas. The movie raises some thoughtful questions about what we can and can’t — and should and shouldn’t — control, with some mystical overtones as Dr. T is told that a wet woman is back luck, and then has to deal with a succession of drenched females. Some will find the ending abrupt, some misogynistic, and some just mistifying. It may be all three — but it is also moving, and even fitting.
Parents should know that the movie includes a same-sex kiss, brief nudity, and a very explicit childbirth scene. A character commits adultery. A character abuses alcohol. There are several hunting scenes, but no animals are shot. There is some strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Dr. T wants so badly to take care of the women in his life, and what effect that has on them. They should talk about why Dee Dee is planning her wedding when the groom seems superfluous (we never even see him or hear about him until the wedding scene). What is it that Dee Dee and Connie and Peggy want, and how will they get it? How are they different from Bree? What do you think about Bree’s reason for changing jobs? What does that mean to Dr. T?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Nashville.”