Altman’s Cast Fits to a T in ‘Dr. T & the Women’

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Talk about perfect casting! Who better to play the most popular gynecologist in Dallas than Richard Gere in Robert Altman’s sparkling and wise romantic comedy “Dr. T & the Women”?

As dashing as ever, Gere is still young enough to appeal to all the generations of women who crowd his office like Grand Central Station at rush hour. What’s more, Gere’s Dr. Sully Travis is not just a guy who’s all looks and charm but a man who truly loves and respects women--he considers them downright sacred.

Indeed, the perils of placing a woman on a pedestal are at the heart of this beguiling film that re-teams Altman with screenwriter Anne Rapp, with whom he collaborated so successfully on “Cookie’s Fortune.” Rapp is clearly in sync with Altman’s peerless sense of rhythm and knows how to write incisively and economically for Altman’s cherished large ensemble casts. What’s especially good here is that while everyone is well-defined, there is a core group that stands out sharply, giving the film focus and guaranteeing swift involvement.


Dr. T, when we meet him, is riding high, his hectic workday cushioned by his exceedingly solicitous--and, truth to tell, nosy--head nurse Carolyn (Shelley Long), who clearly worships him. He breaks his routine regularly by playing golf at his country club and by hunting with his buddies (Robert Hays, Matt Malloy and Andy Richter, Conan O’Brien’s former sidekick). It’s true that things are a bit hectic at home, as his beloved wife Kate (Farrah Fawcett) prepares for the wedding of their older daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson) and his divorcing sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) has moved in temporarily with her three small children.

Then one day at a ritzy shopping mall, Kate starts zoning out, gradually stripping off her clothes for a romp in a fountain. Her psychiatrist (Lee Grant) explains that Kate is regressing to her childhood because her life has become so perfect it has no meaning or purpose. Sully has provided her with everything for so long and so devotedly that there are no challenges left for her.

But just as Kate is seemingly fading away from his life, Sully is swiftly consoled by his country club’s new assistant golf pro, Bree (Helen Hunt), a lovely, open young woman whose naturalness in personality and style offers quite a contrast to the fluffy, overdressed wealthy women who make up the bulk of his patients. Naturally, Sully is not really out of the woods, and the film’s greatest pleasures come in not being able to guess where Altman and Rapp are taking us.

The way in which they wrap up “Dr. T & the Women” is inspired, and it leaves Sully Travis with a renewed sense of purpose in a way he could not possibly have guessed. Gere moves through all these developments with a warm responsiveness that makes Sully one of the most appealing characters he has ever played.

And is he ever surrounded by lovely, impressive actresses. Hunt’s Bree is just too good to be true because she proves to be lots more casual about relationships than Sully, who hasn’t listened closely enough, realizes. Looking ravishing, Fawcett is completely credible as a wife in retreat, certainly a disconcerting figure but one played lightly enough to avoid an unwanted tragic effect.

Dern’s Peggy is the most overdressed of the ladies, a classic desperate Southern belle who keeps up her spirits with spirits, hitting party champagne and slugging the harder stuff in secret. Long’s Carolyn all but walks off with the picture with her sheer expressiveness, allowing the nurse to emerge as more amusing than martyred.


On one level “Dr. T & the Women” is an affectionate satire on nouveau riche Dallas mores--the expensive but rather bland and tasteless homes, the fancy clothing and hairdos. Costume designer Dona Granata and production designer Stephen Altman and their staffs are on the money, and Lyle Lovett (who does not appear) has contributed a breezy, good-natured score.

* MPAA rating: R, for graphic nudity and some sexuality. Times guidelines: The rating refers to the brief, discreet nudity displayed by Fawcett and Hunt; there is also an explicit scene of childbirth.

‘Dr. T & the Women’

Richard Gere: Dr. T

Helen Hunt: Bree

Farrah Fawcett: Kate

Laura Dern: Peggy

An Artisan Entertainment presentation of a Sandcastle 5 production. Director Robert Altman. Producers Altman, James McLindon. Executive producer Cindy Cowan. Screenplay by Anne Rapp. Cinematographer Jan Kiesser. Editor Geraldine Peroni. Music Lyle Lovett. Costumes Dona Granata. Production designer Stephen Altman. Art director Jim Donahue. Set decorator Rona De Angelo. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

In general release.