Doc Hollywood (1991) — Yeah, that movie that Cars plagiarized

“Now I’m waylaid in this heehaw hell, and you insist on clocking me in and out like I’m some kind of factory worker.”

Justin’s rating: One mighty fine pig o’ a movie

Justin’s review: I always respected that Michael J. Fox didn’t stray far from his comedic roots in his film and television career. Sure, he took some swings at drama, as most do, but I’ll always remember his tongue-in-cheek humor and affable charm that he brought to his roles in Teen Wolf, The American President, and The Frighteners. And now I can add one more to my personal list of Fox faves with Doc Hollywood.

Yes, I’m quite late to the party of this film, which I assumed was a middling, forgettable early ’90s entry that could be ignored. This was to my shame, because watching this was one of the more delightful movie experiences I had this whole year.

Dr. Ben (Fox) is on his way from Washington to L.A. to apply for a cosmetic surgery position when he accidentally crashes his car right through a fence of a South Carolina judge. Sentenced to 32 hours of community service as a local physician (and waiting on car repairs), Ben finds himself unwittingly plunged into southern small town life. He’s about tearing his hair out trying to get to his interview in a week’s time, but the local ambulance driver Lou (Julie Warner, Tommy Boy) might find her way into his heart before that happens.

Plus, you’ve got the whole town, from mayor to illiterate farmers, waging a campaign to woo Ben so that he’ll stay on as a permanent doctor. Every time the mayor (played wonderfully by David Ogden Stiers) shows up, he’s giving Ben a sales pitch brimming with confidence and not just a little shrewd psychology. Also, Ben ends up adopting a pig for some reason, and the image of Michael J. Fox proudly leading a swine around must’ve stuck with him for years after.

So let’s talk about three things that I really loved here. The first is that Doc Hollywood is, from start to finish, a movie filled with kind people. We’ve seen so many films about quirky small town residents, but rarely put into so positive of a light. Ben may be a little inflated with his sense of self-importance and big city identity, but he’s not really that pompous to require much deflating. Likewise, the odd locals are good-hearted in their own ways, and even the ones you thought would be difficult end up being pretty OK in the end.

Maybe your mileage varies on this, but I do like to vacation in movie towns that are brimming with sunshine, positivity, and good souls. Unrealistic? Absolutely, but it lets the audience enjoy a fantasy for a little while. Doc Hollywood cranks out a rather large cast for its runtime, and I was surprised how many of the locals I could remember for their particular traits after the credits were done. My favorites were the two mechanics who were too much in love with Ben’s car to mind his initial abrasiveness (and later became bees to do a rap in a parade).

The second thing I appreciated was the nice balance of humor and love story. There are plenty of chuckles and even hearty laughs to be had, but when the film veered into the romcom arena, I didn’t mind either. Lou is more than a blank romantic conquest for Ben; she is studying to get her law degree, has self-worth, and is remarkably confident in who she is. My usual complaint in romcoms is that one of the two leads is lacking in comparison to the other, but that’s not true here.

(It is, however, an absolutely bizarre directorial decision to introduce Lou coming out of a lake completely naked for a good amount of time. “Here’s your love interest!” the film says to the viewers. “Get a good looksee!”)

Finally, what impressed me the most is that Doc Hollywood very slyly subverts the audience’s expectations on pretty much every character in the film. You’d expect the quirky residents to be one-note characters to point and laugh at, but the film works hard to show that they’re far more than that. Ben is assumed to be a big city boy, but later in the movie he admits to coming from a small town himself and is worried about becoming stuck once more in it. The grumpy old doc of the town might know a few more things than a hotshot younger physician might.

And perhaps my favorite scene is when Ben comes home to encounter his romantic rival Hank (Woody Harrelson) sitting in his chair and genuinely upset that Lou doesn’t like him. Ben assumes that Hank is there to bully and fight him — but Hank simply wants to express his frustration and talk it out a bit. This is such a mature and unexpected turn for a movie like this to make that I sat back and awarded it a few points of respect.

With one of those peppy ’90s comedy soundtracks, a great cast, and a lot of silly jokes (this may be the first movie to feature flirtation via urinating all over a deer stand), Doc Hollywood is much more than a catchy title.

Didja notice?

  • The world’s most full and underlit hospital
  • Oh the ’90s round sunglasses we all thought were cool for about 10 minutes
  • Chesney Hawkes blasting over the credits
  • Ah, driving cross-country before MapQuest and GPS
  • “Probably the finest fence I ever put up.”
  • “Fiddlesticks” is a questionable swear word in some towns
  • “This is the best you can do?” “No.”
  • “Hungry Man dinner. I’m a bad cook.”
  • “We ate dog!”
  • Thank you for the close-up of a fishing hook through a finger, movie
  • Other people’s mail is the best source of small-town entertainment
  • “You killed my car!”
  • “My foot feels so good I brought you this pig.”
  • Pollination rap and pig bartering
  • Dynamite fishing
  • Lou peeing all over the place. Then Ben. That’s different.
  • That’s a lot of possums
  • Protect me from the fish!
  • Oh the little ’90s rat tails
  • “Is that a star?” “No, it’s Ted Danson.”

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