Movies Made Here: Secret Lives of Dentists

Our limited-run feature, reviewing the movies – major, minor, indie, cult, classic – with scenes filmed in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow is back, rewarding fans for their patience with the most patient movie man ever.


In the second “mustache movie” of the Movies Made Here, we have the Secret Lives of Dentists from 2002. (The first was a mustached angel Denzel Washington in .) 

Here you have Campbell Scott (David) playing tidily-upper-lipped-quaffed dentist/father to three girls/husband to cheating wife (Dana) Hope Davis. His role is one of quiet, patient endurance, and he shines as the best movie dad ever.

There's a long yet entertaining and so realistic sequence in the sick house (and I should know, because I write to you from it now) when one kid goes down with the flu, and another and another and then the parents, until everyone is sliding through a vomitous puddle only the strongest can survive.

Early on in the film, minute 11, the good husband goes backstage at the to bring his dentist wife (they share a practice but not much else) a rabbit's foot for good luck in her community theater opera debut. But instead he spies a glimpse of her in the dressing room possibly exchanging some romantic moment with some never-identified man. The main secret of Secret Lives is immediately revealed and then everyone spends the rest of the movie not talking about it.

Dealing with this surprise show behind the scenes, David then has to endure the performance. But there's badass Denis Leary (Slater) in the audience, a former and very bitter patient of his who calls David out – loudly – on his bad dental work.

Slater soon gets adopted in David's brain as a sort of mental figment who goes wherever he goes for the rest of the film, always expressing his rage and wonder at how passive the dentist is being. Slater serves as a sort of proxy for the audience who might also be slamming tables and asking, why? Why are you accepting this? Slater becomes David's secret mental life.

David however says nothing, save for the Slater-inspired quip once at the dinner table, “I could kill you,” which is sufficiently startling. He also hits the framed opera poster on the wall for a moment. Leary does his utmost as this anti-Denzel devil to lure him into another life – “join the band, take a girl” – but David is not having it. He worked all his life for this family, and frankly, he loves it.

While we all know marriage is hard, the movie posits that divorce would probably be harder.

There's the inevitable analogy to teeth: teeth live forever; it's life that's hard on them with its apples and candy.

And one hard truth: everyone hates a dentist. But maybe not this one.

This dentist is a rare man who lets his wife ride out her journey and decide ultimately to come back on her own.

In the DVD bonus materials, director Alan Rudolph talks about all the expensive NYC extras it took to film the audience in the Music Hall. “Where we shot our wad here,” he says in the commentary. You'll notice that many among the crowd happen to look like famous people – from Audrey Hepburn to Barbara Bush and Colin Powell.

Sitting in the Music Hall watching the opera, David filters his life through flashbacks. The couple races a bike together down a steep hill, have their first kiss in dental school, a tooth gets ripped out of a jaw, there's sex, baby.

The Music Hall segments required a seven-day shoot and Nabucco, interestingly enough, was the opera Verdi wrote for his then-wife to perform. She blew her voice out doing so.

Such is love and war.

The suburbanly perfect house was shot in a real house in Pelham, where the location scouts came upon a house they liked and knocked on the door. The couple are meant to live and work somewhere in Westchester and seem to fit the bill. But inside each house, of course, lies another story, a hidden story that no one but those within can truly understand.

David says, poignantly, “I'm 38 years old, and it seems to be me that I'm arriving at the age of grief.”

"Age of Grief" is the novella by Jane Smiley this movie was based on. The film itself is available on Amazon. And you can watch the trailer, including Music Hall footage, here

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Krista Madsen August 16, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Fun aside from Music Hall's Director Bjorn Olsson: "I think is the only Tarrytown film where you can actually see me. I am in the audience in the scene where Dennis Leary complains about his fillings falling out." With all those fancy extras too!


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