Dr. T and the Women

I watched this with the secret desire that it was underappreciated; a film maudit in need of a champion. It's really quite awful (a mess to be exact) but Altman deserves some due here.

I have a lot of respect for Altman's take on the overly prescriptive and frequently claustrophobic romantic comedy genre of this period, films that suffer from the same cynicism as bad horror movies: producers know they'll turn a profit so just crank 'em out. Altman gives a lot of breathing room and for at least half of the running time he lets things unfold organically with his trademark uncritical perspective on his characters. The film is life unfurling at its own pace, taking unexpected turns, changing tempo, and that's great. The tonal shifts are at first an asset and Altman is a master of shifting from the intimacy of the examination room to the cacophony of the communal space. The view of intensely gendered spaces feels almost like a comment on the universe of the romantic comedy, illustrating the different spaces that people occupy but this stuff falls apart pretty quickly.

I often prefer a messy film to a tight one, call me a termite guy here. But at times this feels like rapid channel surfing through different movies artlessly cut together. Nothing is earned and nothing develops in the way Altman establishes in the first half. This is a combination of a lack of character and plot development coupled with the absence of an aesthetic or idea that justifies the abrupt changes. Plus, practically every visual gag is a real groaner; either a lazy attempt at a slapstick joke or the sign of a filmmaker hopelessly out of time. The visual cues are aggressively on the nose (at odds with the free form style) and characters who were once mysterious and complex trip and fall into the worst sort of cliches imaginable. Only Laura Dern makes it through the film unscathed. And boy is Laura Dern great in this.

But there is also the problem of the utter stupidity of the much of the plot and subplots. This is something I normally criticize others for saying about films I love: a stupid plot can be a vehicle for a great film if you consider the execution and style! But this is beyond the pale. The cartoon crazy wife is cringe worthy, the lesbian daughter scare is forced, the office manager's sexy massage is ludicrous, and the growing realization that almost all the women in this film are vain, stupid, vindictive, and thirsty as fuck swirling around the calm and collected Dr. T seems like the greatest ego trip of a filmmaker in history.

Also the end (not the tornado) but where Dr. T arrives in Mexico to help give birth to women in labor surrounded by the Mexican equivalents of the white Texas women is downright offensive. As if this community of women doesn't know how to birth a child without a white American doctor. Give me a fucking break.

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