October 26, 2000

A Bleak Diagnosis

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Towards the end of Dr. T and the Women, Richard Gere, who plays the leading role of Dr. Sullivan Travis, lifts his hands in the air and simply laughs at the chaos, confusion, and utter stupidity of his world. In one mere gesture, Gere himself is able to describe the essence of this movie.

With a well-known cast and original plot, one would think that Gere’s sex appeal would only enhance the other qualities of this film; nevertheless, his good looks were the only thing that actually maintained my interest.

Richard Gere is cast as a sensitive gynecologist, loving father, and over-generous husband of a dysfunctional family in an upper-class Dallas society. Dealing with women daily (both at home and at work), he is compassionate, yet cannot fully commiserate with the female persona. Thus, his confusion is constantly fed by his lack of understanding of the women in the movie.

Since I can relate to the occasional absurdity that is present in a gynecologist’s office (as both a woman and a OB/GYN’s daughter), I mistakenly assumed that this movie would be an amusing, yet altogether positive portrayal of femininity. But this is where my assumptions went awry.

Throughout the film, the female image is completely debased. For instance, the movie’s opening scene is a waiting room stereotypically filled with sounds of women’s incessant chatter. Also, Gere himself is elated when, at the end, he finally delivers a baby boy (and not a baby girl).

Furthermore, each prominent female actress exploits her most superficial and most stereotypical characteristics. From Farrah Fawcett’s regression into childhood to Helen Hunt’s manipulative manhandling, from Shelly Long’s naughty nursing to Tara Reid’s pouty personality, the most degrading qualities of these characters are emphasized. And yet these attributes only add to the pervasive alcoholism, lesbian overtones, degenerative family values, and overall superficiality of the film’s gender-biased society.

Under Robert Altman’s direction, the basic theme for the characters in Dr. T and the Women becomes the basic theme for its audience.

That people can have it all and still not be satisfied is strikingly clear for both the characters and the viewers. But for the audience, this feeling about the movie is understandable. It has talent, it has plot, it even provides some laughter, yet it is also shaped by confusion, chaos, and a basic disregard for human morality. And this is something that even Gere’s sex appeal cannot overcome.

Archived article by Barbara Seigel