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The Door in the Floor

Review By: Jennifer Krieger

There are movies that catch you off guard, movies that you assume will be humdrum, typical affairs with perhaps a few moments of humor or realism but overall a waste of time and money. And then, once you're there, in that theater, you find yourself laughing, engaged and caught up in the story, almost despite yourself and you exit both surprised and fulfilled. And then there are the movie you go into thinking 'this will be great' movies whose previews have tantalized you for months, movies whose casts seem to radiate buzz and generate prestige, movies that you can already imagine having impassioned discussions with friends over coffee for days after, movies that you are sure will linger. When these movies disappoint I am inevitably despondent and cranky. I exit the theater full of loathing for butchering directors and clueless writers; I am terrible to be around. After seeing Door in the Floor my friend and I stepped out into the sunlight of Times Square both so filled with ire that we could hardly bring ourselves to muster up the camaraderie for dinner.

I was really looking forward to the movie. In my mind, Jeff Bridges is one of the most underrated Hollywood actors and his ability to slide, chameleon-like into various characters inevitably takes my breath away. I had heard good things about the up-and-coming actor Jon Foster and I had faith that Kim Basinger could pull of a role that required her to do more then look gorgeous. Moreover, I was a fan of John Irving's novel A Widow for a Year on which the film is based. Realistically, I probably should have been more skeptical; I should have known how hard it is to adopt a novel, especially one that walks such a fine line between tragedy and parody to film. I should have assumed that there would be some rough spots where the dialogue didn't really cohere or the pacing seemed off, but I didn't, and the steady sinking feeling that overwhelmed me as I sat in the theater took me completely by surprise.

The story itself is strong: Jeff Bridges plays children's book author/failed novelist/sometimes artist Ted Cole. Bridges does manage to pull of the role of a man whose pretensions mask a deep self-loathing without being obvious or showy. His indulgent use and easy disregard for women, whether it be his grieving wife (Basinger) or the high-strung society woman who poses for him (Mimi Rogers), is believably symptomatic of some deeper fear or even hatred of women. Yet the implications of his brutal and dismissive actions are never fully explored, and the uneasy feeling we get seeing him hold his young daughter (Elle Fanning) remains untouched.

Cole describes the state of his marriage to his young assistant Eddie O'Hare as no more then a lapse in "a long and happy marriage." Yet we never really see Ted's motivations for instigating the separation. Ostensibly Marian Cole's anguish has just gotten unbearable, but it has been many years since the accident; what has occurred in the aftermath? None of the emotions, whether it be Marian's slack-jawed silence or Ted's childish indulgence are rendered truthfully; we are expected to take them at face value as the manifestations of incomprehensible grief, but they come across as merely directorial set-ups for the various hauntingly beautiful, manipulative scenes in the film.

Take, for example, Marian's affair with Eddie. Ted hired the boy as an appeasement of sorts; he looks just like one the sons. It is almost inevitable that she starts sleeping with him, but her motivations for doing so remain murky. This vaguely incestuous coupling affords some graduate-esque dialogue and a lovely shot of her pink sweater and bra, but little else. Part of the problem lies with Basinger's choice to speak all her lines in a low monotone that is, once again 'text-book syndrome of grief' coupled with dialogue that generously could be called "spare" but that is really just vague. Thus the scenes between her and Eddie are a series of words that seem to imply something but float, pretty and meaningless in the air.

As Eddie, Jon Foster is lackluster. He is desperate to be with Marian, but even after they have sex, he remains morose. As the debased model Evelyn Vuaghn, Mimi Rogers vacillates between hunting sadness and wild-eyed mania, played for comedic effect. The actress deserves better. As the fetching babysitter, Bijou Phillips is little more then eye-candy and the scene where she is supposed to break-down is laughably bad.

My friend was pitch-perfect in his description of the movie as "tonally inconsistent and emotionally vacant." Set in Sag Harbor, the film is full of pretty images of misty beaches and wind-blown houses, and in the end, the scenery out-does the characters themselves in mood and appeal. What is strangely sad is how little we end up caring about the fate of these characters. The Coles have endured something terrible, but their grief is rendered by clichés and in the end, we leave the theater not only wishing that we had cared more about them as characters, but that the directors, the screenwriters and the producers had as well.

Movie Grade: C+

Synopsis: This is the dramatic story of the family of famous children’s books author Ted Cole (Bridges), living in the East Hamptons in 1958, coping with the recent deaths of two teenage sons in a freak car accident. Hoping to inspire his wife, Marion (Basinger), to divorce him, Ted hires a personal assistant (Foster) who is a dead ringer for one of the boys, with Marion soon having an affair with the teenager that borders on incestuous. Meanwhile, this strange couple still has a remaining child, four-year-old daughter Ruth (Fanning).

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