Few films ever get the rigors of parenting quite right. Kids are either too cute or too smart-alecky, and the grown-ups involved always seem to have far too much time on their hands. The Secret Lives of Dentists is a refreshing departure, even though the title doesn't suggest authenticity on the domestic battleground. Director Alan Rudolph and writer Craig Lucas deliver a graceful big-screen version of Jane Smiley's novella.
The motion picture, which is featured this Saturday evening at the Lake Placid Film Forum, presents a couple who don't neglect childrearing just because the marriage is in trouble. This portrait of family complexity benefits from the considerable talents of Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, actors who always tend to shine in their respective indie projects.
Unlike the dentistry duo played by Steve Martin and Laura Dern in the misguided Novocaine, the Secret Lives practitioners seem as real as your next-door neighbors: Dave and Dana Hurst share an office, a suburban home, a getaway cabin in the country and three lively young daughters. What more could an attractive husband and wife want?
In Dana's case, it might be a romantic liaison with a member of her amateur opera troupe. Dave has his suspicions. He even begins to imagine that a cantankerous patient -- Denis Leary, doing a typical misanthropic routine -- is always by his side, continually offering devilish advice. That daydream reveals a dark side of this otherwise nurturing father.
With adultery on the horizon, the Hursts go into a tailspin. The girls become rebellious. A stomach flu hits the whole family. In one feverish hallucination, Dave fantasizes about his assistant (Robin Tunney) in a slinky dress, singing like a sultry chanteuse.
Rudolph matches angst with wit in a story that avoids cliche. In voice-over narration, Dave muses on the symbolic significance of tooth decay, but these protagonists could just as easily be butchers, bakers or candlestick makers; the careers count far less than the fracture of their once-happy home. While the situation deteriorates there, the viewer can find at least some cause for optimism in the unconditional embrace of the Hurst offspring. For more information on the film fest, which runs through the weekend, call 1-518-523-3456 or visit http://www.lake placidfilmforum.com.
Local cineastes seem to be getting their act together. At a May 31 meeting hosted by the Vermont Film Commis-sion, about 25 people who work in the medium discussed ways to improve their lot.
One of the participants, Andrea Grayson, volunteered to handle some fundamental chores on the group's to-do list: She plans to assemble a database of venues, from town halls to granges, where movies can be screened around the state. The Charlotte resident will also create a listserv for automatically emailing filmmaking Vermonters. To be part of this compendium, visit http://www.topica. com/lists/vtfilm.
The 40-year-old Grayson just finished a six-part series, "Yoga at Home," that begins airing this week on VCAM -- or Vermont Community Access Media, formerly known as Channel 15. She produced the program, an exercise routine aimed at seniors and shut-ins.
Grayson wears several hats, including one that should lead to a cap and gown. "I'm researching for a documentary called Educating for Spirit," she says of a film about learning that incorporates a holistic perspective. "It may start shooting in January, at schools in spiritual communities in Italy, Mexico and California. I hope this can be my doctoral dissertation."
The New Jersey native is focusing on educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Vermont, where she also works. Grayson produces live events and does strategic media planning for the continuing-ed department.
Last year, she conducted a workshop in Swaziland for journalists and entertainment producers on how to put more information about HIV/AIDS in their programming. The African nation has a 40 percent infection rate.
Grayson's husband, performer Woody Keppel, has been writing The Mind of Fish, a screenplay about an animal psychologist. If all goes well, he plans to star in the movie, which she is helping coordinate.
With a background in painting and sculpture, Grayson toiled in the Big Apple for a decade. She turned out TV commercials, music videos and "Channel One," a news show for high school students.
"When I was an artist, I thought that if you want to reach a lot of people, you've got to be in television," Grayson explains. "Later, I realized the only way to touch people is one-on-one."
Now she's trying both at once.
Vermont Film Commission www.vermontfilm.com
Vermont Community Access Media www.vermontcam.org
Vermont Filmmakers listserv www.topica.com/lists/vtfilm