Dir: Tod Williams. US.2004. 111mins.
In his first film sincehis promising 1998 debut The Adventures Of Sebastian Cole, Tod Williamsdelivers a solid and compelling adaptation of the first third of John Irving'snovel A Widow For One Year. Blending Irving's tendency to absurdism witha painful evocation of suppressed grief, The Door In The Floor willalternately entertain, move and alienate specialized audiences in its domesticsummer run through Focus Features. The film opens in the US on July 16.
Williams has opted forrestraint, painting the film with a calm, quiet surface masking turbulentundercurrents and deep melancholy underneath. The characters don't gush orshare, they don't achieve peace, and ultimately none are particularly likeable.It's an austere approach, which Irving would be (and reportedly is) proud of,but one which might prove too subtle for wider domestic audiences used to thewarm-and-fuzzy optimism of other "dealing-with-death" movies such as MoonlightMile or Unstrung Heroes.
International critics andspecialised audiences will respond well, although likely end-of-yearnominations would help bring the further attention such a disquieting piecemight need to find stature in each territory.
The film doesn't maintainone perspective. It begins in the large Hamptons house of successful children'sbook author and illustrator Ted Cole (Bridges) who lives in affluence with hisfour year-old daughter (Fanning, younger sister of Dakota). Straight away, itis clear that Cole is still coping with the loss of two strapping teenage sons,although quite how they died is not immediately apparent. Living nearby in abedsit is Marion Cole (Basinger), Ted's estranged and grieving wife who canbarely bring herself to care for her daughter.
The perspective soonswitches to Eddie O'Hare, a preppy 16 year-old would-be writer (Foster) whoarrives for the summer to work as Cole's assistant. He is picked up from theharbour by Marion, and quickly develops a crush on her. She in turn initiatesan affair with him but whether she is genuinely attracted to him or whether sheis seeking vestiges of her sons in him is never clear.
Meanwhile Ted, aware ofEddie's feelings for Marion, is embarking on an affair of his own with a localhousewife Mrs Vaughn (Rogers) who is acting as a model for a series ofportraits he is painting.
As the summer goes on, Tedand Eddie wage an increasingly bitter war of words, while Marion comes to herdecision to leave her daughter and husband and strike out on her own.
Williams arguably makes acouple of key mistakes in the picture. One of Cole's books for kids The DoorIn The Floor is referred to throughout and finally proves a labouredanalogy for the central drama. And the flashback retelling of the boys' deathitself towards the end feels unnecessary in an otherwise understated film.
Of the actors, it's JeffBridges who steals top honours as the egotistical Ted, swaggering around thehouse in his painting smock, hiding his anguish in condescension and booze.Foster, brother of another hot young actor Ben Foster, is memorable as Eddieand Basinger is generally impressive as Marion, somehow managing to besympathetic even though her indifference to and eventual abandonment of herdaughter is one of the film's most disturbing elements.
Prod cos: This Is That, Revere Pictures
US dist: Focus Features
Int'l sales: Focus Features (1)212 343 9230)
Exec prods: Amy J Kaufman, RogerMarino
Prods: Ted Hope, Anne Carey,Michael Corrente
Scr: Tod Williams, based on thenovel by John Irving
Cine: Terry Stacey
Prod des: Therese Deprez
Ed: Alfonoso Goncalves
Mus: Marcelo Zarvos
Main cast: Jeff Bridges, KimBasinger, Jon Foster, Mimi Rogers, Elle Fanning, Bijou Phillips