This drama, based on the true story of “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss, is the softest possible recounting of the prostitution scandal. Although the real-life Fleiss was arrested for drug use and pandering, illegal substances are absent onscreen, johns are backgrounded in only a couple of scenes, and the prostitutes who appear at the family dinner table are wholesome enough to pass for grad students. Despite this, “The Good Doctor” is a family story, presented with credibility thanks to some good performances.
Presented through the eyes of her father, Dr. Paul Fleiss (Michael Gross), the picture of Fleiss (Tricia Leigh Fisher) that emerges is of a mildly mischievous daddy’s girl gone bad through permissive parenting. Dr. Fleiss recalls his daughter’s liberal upbringing in a family of six children, via flashbacks during a visit with Leo (George Segal), a longtime friend.
Though his role is limited, Segal is particularly effective at mirroring middle-American disbelief at Dr. Fleiss’ naivete over his daughter’s crimes.
Viewers will no doubt feel a surge of recognition when Segal, the voice of reason, tells Gross, “I’m having so much trouble with this. … A good father doesn’t look the other way when his child is doing something so wrong.”
The producers, director Michael Switzer and writer Karol Ann Hoeffner contrast the conventional expectations of parents (such as the happy wedding of Leo’s daughter) with the mess created by Heidi, and by implication, her parents.
Under Switzer’s direction, Fisher is convincing as Heidi, complete with the petulant, jutting jaw line famous from courthouse shots on the news.
With skillful restraint, Gross handles overwritten dialogue meant to convey his unrealistic optimism over his daughter’s character. He’s a sympathetic character, a doctor whose only real fault is loving his patients and his family too much.
Ultimately, the drama’s softness is a reflection of Dr. Fleiss’ goodness; as such the vidpic’s concept is a convenient, yet credible, way of cleaning up for TV a story that otherwise would have been ripe for an NC-17 movie.