(2002)3.5Josh RalskeLoosely adapted by screenwriter Craig Lucas (A Prelude to a Kiss) from Jane Smiley's novella The Age of Grief, Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists stands alongside the underrated director's best work. It's a smart and surprisingly moving dark comedy about the impossibility of marriage. Campbell Scott delivers yet another richly nuanced performance, as David Hurst, a tightly wound dentist whose wife's apparent infidelity brings a dangerous glimmer of his rage to the surface. Scott directed co-stars Hope Davis and Denis Leary in the disappointing Final, and his apparent rapport with these talented performers sets the film aglow. Davis, who plays Dana, Scott's dentist wife, wrings the emotional truth out of her every moment onscreen. Leary's role lends an element of Fight Club-style fantasy to an otherwise painstakingly realistic look at family life, and as such, may seem an unwelcome intrusion to some viewers, especially since the inner workings of David's mind are already spelled out in voice-over. But, in essentially giving voice to David's id, Leary again demonstrates his knack for turning finely honed hostility into cathartic comedy. The most profound insights of the film come in its beautifully detailed depiction of its characters' home and work lives, including David's fantasies and reminiscences about his life. Rudolph, who hasn't worked much with child actors, gets amazingly funny, true-to-life performances from the three girls who play the Hurst daughters, Gianna Beleno, Cassidy Hinkle, and Lydia Jordan. Robin Tunney's fine work, in a smallish role as David's assistant, points up another virtue of the film (and, in fact, in most of Rudolph's work). There's always a sense of life going on beyond the edges of the frame that keeps the film grounded in reality, and that adds to its surprising resonance.
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