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[whitespace] 'Dr. T & the Women'
Nursing a Crush: Dr. Sullivan Travis' (Richard Gere) devoted female followers include his nurse, Carolyn (Shelley Long).

Ladies' Man

Richard Gere lands in all kinds of female trouble in Robert Altman's 'Dr. T & the Women'

By Richard von Busack

I'D LOVE TO WRITE, "I pity the fool who doesn't see Dr. T," but it's too late to start a career as a blurb-smith. Besides, Dr. T & the Women isn't for everyone--ever thus for Robert Altman. The film starts and you must sink or swim into a crowd scene of fancy women at a gynecologist's office. At the center of this congestion is the best ob-gyn in Dallas, Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere); somehow he's calm enough to manage it. He's helped by an adoring secretary and all of the women at home: two fine daughters (Tara Reid and Kate Hudson), a visiting sister-in-law who is discreetly emptying out his liquor cabinet (Laura Dern), her knee-high female triplet daughters, and his cherished wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett). In The Virgin Suicides, there was a line about how the similarly outnumbered James Woods was "caught in an estrogen haze." Not everyone can handle their drugs, or in this case, hormones. Travis floats, as only Gere can float, in the center of this giant comic EMP of estrogen, serene, faithful and reliable. Unfortunately, the problem with female energy is that it sometimes changes without notice, particularly when depended upon to remain constant.

At the beginning of the film, Kate goes nuts, regressing to age 7. (The madness is explained in a funny scene of psychiatric mumbo-jumbo by Lee Grant.) Kate's breakdown happens close to the society wedding of Travis' daughter Dee Dee (Hudson). And a female golf pro starts work at the country club where Travis escapes his troubles. The golfer is named Bree. She's played by Helen Hunt, with her falcon restlessness and that iron-hard half-smile. Spotting Gere she asks, "What kind of doctor is he?" A caddy replies, "The lucky kind."

Dr. T's later luck is handled with a kind of maturity in male/female attraction that's just plain extinct in the movies. Seemingly everyone today directs a love scene as if there were a sexual harassment lawyer looking over their shoulder. But the film doesn't all work; Fawcett may look too crazy even for crazy. And the reason for Dee Dee's wedding needed better underscoring--maybe Dee Dee should have been a religious reactionary--there's a few of them in Dallas, and children do like to rebel against their unruffled parents.

A woman wrote this film--Anne Rapp, who also wrote the underpowered Cookie's Fortune--so don't fear that Dr. T & the Women suggests some kind of sexual thrills between a gynecologist and his patients. This is a movie about a man rudely disrupted. Because of his devotion to work and his uncrushable faith in the goodness of women, he's saved from catastrophe. Dr. T & the Women could be a moral tale; it could also be an autobiographical allegory. The 75-year-old Robert Altman has always been the lucky kind of director.

Dr. T & the Women (R; 122 min.) Directed by Robert Altman, written by Anne Rapp, photographed by Jan Kiesser and starring Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Laura Dern and Farrah Fawcett, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the October 12-18, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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