In The Secret Lives of Dentists, Campbell Scott's Dave is pretty sure his wife's having an affair, but getting him to do something about it would be like, well, like pulling teeth. Instead, he broods, running his mind over his predicament, like a tongue caressing a cavity. Dave's what you'd call an ordinary guy, which may be why Jane Smiley, in the novella that the movie's based on, made him a dentist. On and off the screen, dentistry is considered the opposite of a glamorous profession ' all that scraping away of other people's plaque. But Dave cherishes his ordinary life, or at least he would if his wife, also a dentist, weren't flashing her pearly whites at someone else. Yes, Dave should confront Dana (Hope Davis), who shows all the signs of having been married to the same man for 20 years, despite having been married to Dave for only 10. But if he confronts her, won't that just bring the problem out in the open, make things worse than they already are?
Most people would answer "no" to that question; we've been taught to verbalize our marital woes by the likes of Oprah and Dr. Phil. But The Secret Lives of Dentists, to its credit, hangs close to Dave's point of view, offering us a portrait of a decaying marriage without an accompanying shot of Novocaine. A Mr. Mom type, Dave's too busy tending to his daughters' stomach flu to notice that Dana has developed an interest in opera. And so, when he realizes that she may also have developed an interest in opera directors, he doesn't lose his cool, he loses his marbles ' enough of them, anyway, that he starts holding imaginary conversations with an alter ego played by Denis Leary. As the devil over Dave's slumped shoulder, Leary provides a much-needed hit of laughing gas, but mostly he lets us know what Dave's inner cuckold is thinking. And what is he thinking? He's thinking he'd like to kill his wife and put his kids up for adoption, but then who'd make tonight's dinner?
As a perfectly boring dentist, Scott is so perfectly boring that you almost suspect type-casting. Davis is awfully good, too, as a woman who fears a lifetime of impacted molars. "Teeth outlast everything," Dave says early on in the movie, before the bite marks have begun to show.