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Dr. T and the Women (R)
Artisan

There's actually much to like in this great big mess of a film directed by Robert Altman (Nashville, Cookie's Fortune). Many female critics are raging over a gynecologist's examining room being a central set in this homage to women and to men who love them too much. But the stirrups scenes are not offensive. They're used in the same way that a psychiatrist's couch is often employed, and serve to set the audience up for the bizarre, graphic ending -- a disjointed but wacky-enough-to-be-interesting departure from the charmed Dallas setting of the rest of the film.

Dr. T (Richard Gere) is a prominent Dallas Ob/Gyn with a deranged wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett) and two spoiled, coquettish daughters (Tara Reid and Kate Hudson). The action of the film takes place during the weeks preceding Deedee's (Hudson) wedding, during which time Mom is hospitalized for what is suspected to be the Hestia complex -- a curse of women who are loved and protected too much and respond by retreating to a childlike state. Kate's sister, boozy Aunt Peggy (Laura Dern), moves in with her three little girls and adds to the chaos. Meanwhile, a self-assured golf pro, Bree (Helen Hunt), moves to Dallas and captures Dr. T's imagination and his very needy heart.

It's his first affair; in spite of being surrounded and openly adored by women most all the time, Dr. T, until now, has believed and practiced loyalty and fidelity. He is a romantic; Bree is not. She challenges his notions of the saintliness of women while he blindly falls in love with her, all of his old-fashioned notions of love firmly in place. Meanwhile, bride-to-be Deedee must decide if she loves her fianc more than her former lesbian lover and maid of honor, Marilyn (Liv Tyler).

It sounds like a jumble, and it is. Altman loves pastiche and large ensemble casts, and here he indulges himself to the point of distraction. Dr. T and the Women appears to be a deliberate renunciation of form, refusing, as in Cookie's Fortune, to adhere to any traditional story-telling structure or device.

But there are many lovely and satisfying moments in the film. Gere is not as smarmy as usual; in fact, he's downright endearing. Dern turns in a wonderful supporting performance and Hudson and Reid are very capable as the two sisters. The flock of overdressed, under-occupied, wealthy Dallas women who hang out in Dr. T's waiting room don't quite jell as actual people but are entertaining in their excess.

I don't think many feminist sensibilities will be warped by Dr. T and the Women. It won't be listed among Altman's more memorable films, but it's not a complete disaster either.

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