The Secret Lives Of Dentists

An apparently solid marriage begins unraveling at its almost imperceptibly frayed edges in this adaptation of Jane Smiley's novella, which gets off to a deceptively low key start but becomes increasingly surreal as the seeds of suspicion drive a placid suburban husband into the corrosive grip of jealousy. As they approach middle age, married dentists David...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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An apparently solid marriage begins unraveling at its almost imperceptibly frayed edges in this adaptation of Jane Smiley's novella, which gets off to a deceptively low key start but becomes increasingly surreal as the seeds of suspicion drive a placid suburban husband into the corrosive grip of jealousy. As they approach middle age, married dentists David and Dana Hurst (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis) appear to have everything: three small daughters (Gianna Beleno, Lydia Jordan, Cassidy Hinkle), a lovely home, a rustic weekend getaway and their flourishing local practice. But while David thrives on predictability, the quietly restless Dana craves variety. A serious amateur singer, she immerses herself in rehearsals for a small role with a touring production of Nabucco, and on opening night David proudly escorts his daughters to the performance. His life's illusions are rudely shattered when he slips backstage and glimpses Dana immersed in disturbingly intimate conversation with a man whose face he can't see. Is she having an affair and, if so, with whom? Dire suspicions torment David, who's torn between confrontation and a wait-and-see approach. David's self-abnegating nature favors the latter; forcing an emotional scene will set them both on a path from which there's no retreat, while holding back might allow the affair to run its course without destroying their marriage. But inaction makes David feel like a jellyfish, and his internal struggle blossoms poisonously into a series of imaginary conversations with a thoroughly disagreeable patient, scruffy jazz trumpeter Slater (Denis Leary). During a single abrasive visit to David's office, the real Slater unleashes a bilious stream of sour discontents; it's no wonder his own wife just threw him out. The imaginary Slater counsels full-frontal belligerence, belittling David as a sorry wuss when he fails to rise to the bait. The situation comes to a head over the course of five miserable days during which all the Hursts succumb sequentially to a vicious flu that plunges David into a vivid, hallucinatory fever dream of betrayal and retribution. Screenwriter Craig Lucas's adaptation of Smiley's The Age of Grief retains the story's intensely introspective point of view — we never get out of David's head. Director Alan Rudolph, whose reputation rests on ensemble pieces, lets Scott's performance — as skilled as his pyrotechnical turn in ROGER DODGER (2002), but composed entirely of subtle notes — anchor the film.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: R
  • Review: An apparently solid marriage begins unraveling at its almost imperceptibly frayed edges in this adaptation of Jane Smiley's novella, which gets off to a deceptively low key start but becomes increasingly surreal as the seeds of suspicion drive a placid sub… (more)

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