The Door in the Floor

Directed by Tod Williams. Starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Elle Fanning, Mimi Rogers, Bijou Phillips, Louis Arcella. (2004, R, 111 min.)

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 23, 2004

The Door in the Floor

In adapting the first third of John Irving’s A Widow for One Year into his film The Door in the Floor, writer/director Tod Williams updates Irving’s Fifties-set story to modern times … and that is the only discernible change from the source material. The Door in the Floor is an almost literal translation, with each plot point hit precisely so, and much of the dialogue lifted verbatim from Irving’s engaging prose. What doesn’t translate, however, is the stingingly funny slant Irving takes, or the fact that Irving’s novel is a comic novel. At first glance, the subject matter doesn’t seem terribly ripe for riffing – it’s the story of two parents still dealing with the aftermath of their two sons’ accidental deaths in an automobile accident five years prior. The father, Ted Cole (Bridges), is a children’s book writer and illustrator, a bit of an ass, a lot of a drunk, and an awful womanizer. The mother, Marion (Basinger), has been reduced in the wake of her beloved sons’ deaths to little more than a zombie; she’s so konked out she can barely look at the 4-year-old daughter, Ruth (Fanning), she and Ted produced in an ill-advised effort to replace the lost sons. The film, which takes place in the Hamptons, confines itself to one fateful summer, during which Marion and Ted agree to a trial separation and a 16-year-old budding writer named Eddie (Foster) arrives to work as Ted’s assistant. It quickly becomes clear to Eddie that Ted requires little from him but chauffeuring to his next conquest, which frees up lots of time for Eddie to masturbate to Mrs. Cole’s underwear. It goes without saying he gets caught, although what happens next – a peculiar, galvanizing, and sexual relationship between the grieving mother and the hapless, eternally horny Eddie – is handled with nonjudgmental naturalism. But it – along with most everything else in the film – is handled with far too much restraint. Williams – whose first film was the wacky and accomplished, semiautobiographical The Adventures of Sebastian Cole – punctuates The Door in the Floor throughout with visual and verbal zingers, like squid ink freezing in ice cube trays (which pays off later like the pleasingly blue punchline to a pornographic joke). But it isn’t until the film’s climactic sequence – in which the film’s three leads separately reach boiling points – that The Door in the Floor opens itself up to the inspired lunacy of Irving’s source material. After so much somberness, the building frenzy of this sequence and the character catharses it inspires is a thumper – one only wishes it hadn’t taken so long, and especially with such an able body as Bridges around. To do no disservice to the impressive work of Bridges’ co-stars, anytime his ragged writer, in flowing caftans and floppy hats, is onscreen, it’s impossible to take in anything else, so commanding is his presence, and so more skilled is he in mining the aching comedy in the tragedy.

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