If, as the old joke has it, gynaecologists are always up to their elbows in work, how much more taxing would that job be if you were Richard Gere? That’s the proposition that Robert Altman lays before us in a film that’s often dismissed, his last of a line of flops that lay between Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001). But Dr T is really worth a second look because of what Altman is doing, possibly unbeknown to his cast.
Scouring Hollywood, he’s found a handful of irritating, self-obsessed and unhinged actresses and cast them just as they are – or is it more the sort of type they very often play? Either way, Altman does not stop there. He’s then gone and found a gang of normally vanilla actresses and cast them entirely against type. Say hello to Shelley Long, Farrah Fawcett and Laura Dern, Helen Hunt, Kate Hudson and Liv Tyler – you work out who falls into which group. Stir in the odd real witch or two, then drop in poor Richard Gere, playing the knight errant and everyday decent chap, a gynaecologist surrounded by a very strange mix of female friends, lovers, relations and colleagues, and you’ve got something like Pilgrim’s Progress updated to the new millennium.
The film absolutely bombed, and no wonder – it looks from the title and casting like a light bit of rom-com whimsy aimed at the stereotyped woman. Then, once your female viewer is all settled in, along comes 117 minutes telling her how tough it is being a man.
It’s a comedy by the way. While you’re not laughing – this film has many plus points but being funny isn’t really one of them – try and work out how Altman escaped alive.
© Steve Morrissey 2000
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