Dolorous Haze


Robert Altman calls his latest film a “love letter to the women of Dallas,” but it’s hard to detect anything resembling affection in Dr. T and the Women—at best, a snickering empathy for Richard Gere, cast effectively enough as the squintingly perplexed, emasculated center of a raging estrogen tempest. Gere’s well-groomed smoothy, Travis Sullivan, is the gynecologist of choice for the dowagers and debutantes of Dallas high society. The opening credit sequence, a trademark tracking-camera grandstander, fluidly details the fur-flying chaos that seems to erupt daily in his waiting room—a horde of disgruntled harridans descending on beleaguered nurse Shelley Long.

The home front is no less treacherous. After Dr. T’s wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett), disrobes in a shopping mall and leaps into a fountain, she’s diagnosed with Hestia syndrome—a childlike regression that afflicts those who are “loved too much.” (Altman keeps her institutionalized and blank-eyed for most of the film, though—like Letterman last week—he can’t resist wheeling her out for an encore flip-out.) Kate’s permanently sloshed, soon-to-be-divorced sister (Laura Dern) moves into the opulent Sullivan residence, little girls in tow. And as Travis’s cheerleading eldest daughter (Kate Hudson) prepares for her wedding, her scheming sibling, a JFK-conspiracy buff and tour guide (Tara Reid), runs to Daddy with some interesting news about her sister and the maid of honor (Liv Tyler). Everywhere the good doctor turns, women bustle and swarm and teem—spoiled, irrational creatures who demand constant, unwavering attention. The one slacks-wearing exception, golf pro Bree (a sporty-spiced Helen Hunt), offers Travis down-to-earth consolation, but soon proves to be as great a source of confusion.

A flabby farce in which everyone seems to be making it up as they go along (Lyle Lovett’s score cannily mirrors the quasi-improvisatory scatter), Dr. T is not exactly uninvolving—mainly because it’s such a curiously bumpy ride. The movie ambles along with a semi-agreeable absent-mindedness, stirring randomly from its distracted daze for some stale nudge-wink humor and bouts of casual mockery and contempt. Written by Anne Rapp (who also scripted Cookie’s Fortune), Dr. T is garbled enough to encourage rampant projection: Is this a sitting-duck attack on sodden Southern privilege? An old-fashioned what’s-a-guy-to-do lament? A snide critique thereof? A restless expression of Freudian male paranoia? A snide critique thereof? For what it’s worth, there’s more than a hint of gynophobia in the twist ending, which, if nothing else, explodes the movie’s self-satisfied dottiness into full-bore insanity.

There’s a perverse integrity to the anti-hazing drama Followers, a movie so seamlessly and comprehensively dreadful that its very existence (let alone its appearance in theaters) beggars belief. Two freshmen buddies—one white, one black—try to join a neo-Nazi-ish fraternity, with calamitous results. The microbudget and the oblivious determination of writer-director Jonathan M. Flicker inspire a degree of underdog sympathy—though it’s quickly obliterated by the hallucinogenically bad acting and script. Both are in fact well below the standards of the social-guidance movie, Flicker’s apparent exemplar.