The Door in the Floor: Dramatically uneven
At times, The Door in the Floor has the feel and sensibility of an adult, well-crafted European film. Unfortunately, at other times The Door in the Floor, like the vast majority of Hollywood movies, suffers from arrested development. (Image: Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges The Door in the Floor.)
The chief problem lies with director-screenwriter Tod Williams' uncertainty whether the subject of a 40-something woman having an affair with a teenager (and the affair's incestuous overtones) should be treated with erotic seriousness or with adolescent goofiness. The same applies to Williams' handling of the sexual escapades of the film's middle-aged male protagonist. Those are depicted with as much flair – or lack thereof – as your average teen flick.
Such an approach is particularly grating partly because it throws the film off balance (while signaling that Williams doesn't trust his audience), but mainly because if The Door in the Floor had kept its focus on the story's delicate observations about human nature it could have become the outstanding motion picture it aims to be.
The Door in the Floor plot
Based on the first third of John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year, The Door in the Floor revolves around the vicissitudes of a well-to-do middle-aged couple in East Hampton, located about 100 miles from New York City: a famous children's book author, Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), and his wife, Marion (Kim Basinger), both of whom are incapable of coping with the death of their two teenage sons in a car accident. While Marion has shut herself off emotionally, even ignoring her little daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning), Ted tries to find solace in his writing and in the arms and legs of numerous women.
Jon Foster's character, Eddie O'Hare, serves as the catalyst that will make Ted and Marion's relationship go over the edge. A teenage prep-school student hired for the summer to help Ted with literary and household chores, Eddie becomes enamored and sexually involved with Marion, who sees him as a replacement for one of the sons she has lost.
The Door in the Floor characters: Victims all
As mentioned above, Tod Williams' mishandling of The Door in the Floor's sexual elements are a serious problem – e.g., a scene in which Ruth catches her mother being penetrated doggie-style by Eddie belongs to an NC-17 Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy flick. On the other hand, Williams must be given credit for depicting characters that are neither heroes nor villains, but victims. Ted and Marion are victims of the past and of life's randomness, while Eddie has fallen prey to youthful idealism and selfishness.
When Eddie begins the affair with his boss' wife, it's more than just a case of teen lust. The young man does believe that Ted lacks what it takes to provide Marion with the affection she so desperately needs. For their part, Ted's sexual proclivities and Marion's emotional distance are portrayed as emotional wounds that have not and will not heal. Even Marion's use of Eddie as a comforting tool comes across as an act of desperation, not seedy calculation. (Admittedly, Williams can't resist a little moralizing, poking fun at Ted, a middle-aged man who enjoys having sex with multiple partners.)
Kim Basinger superb in The Door in the Floor
In order to convey its characters' complexities, The Door in the Floor needed – and got – top talent to bring its protagonists to life. The results, however, have been disappointingly mixed. (Image: Kim Basinger The Door in the Floor.)
Jon Foster (of TV's Life As We Know It) manages to bring forth both Eddie's callowness and self-righteous determination, but the other male side of the triangle, Jeff Bridges, usually an outstanding, thoroughly believable actor, overdoes the effusiveness of his free-spirited, “sexually adventurous” writer. True, Ted Cole is doing his utmost to take his mind away from the emotional void created by the death of his sons and his crumbling marriage, but only sporadically does Bridges convey the pain that underlies his character's outward exuberance.
Kim Basinger, on the other hand, is a revelation. In what is probably the best performance of her career, Basinger is immensely touching as the grieving mother. The simmering volcano underneath her despondent behavior is painfully tangible without the actress ever feeling the need to telegraph her emotions to the audience. Hers is a beautifully restrained performance – without an iota of self-pity – that stands as the film's emotional axis. In fact, although Basinger's role is smaller than either Bridges' or Foster's, The Door in the Floor belongs to her.
The Door in the Floor (2004). Dir.: Tod Williams. Scr.: Tod Williams; from John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Elle Fanning, Mimi Rogers, Larry Pine, Bijou Phillips, John Rothman, Donna Murphy.
Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges The Door in the Floor photo: Focus Features.