- Based on John Irving’s 1998 novel A Widow for One Year, Tod Williams’ handsomely mounted psychological/family drama The Door in the Floor fails to reach its potential due to the screenwriter-director’s uneven handling of his film’s characters and situations.
- Nonetheless, Kim Basinger delivers a flawless performance – possibly a career best – as a grieving East Hampton wife and mother who becomes sexually involved with her husband’s teenage assistant.
The Door in the Floor: Kim Basinger is chief saving grace in dramatically uneven family drama
At times, director-screenwriter Tod Williams’ psychological/family drama The Door in the Floor has the look (cinematography by Terry Stacey) and sensibility of a well-crafted, adult-oriented film – something Claude Sautet, Bernardo Bertolucci, or Louis Malle might have come up with a decade or two (or three) ago.
At other times, however, The Door in the Floor, like the vast majority of American movies, suffers from a condition known as arrested development.
The key problem with this film adaptation of (the first third of) John Irving’s 1998 novel A Widow for One Year lies in 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 adolescent goofiness.
A similar issue derails the filmmaker’s handling of the sexual escapades of his middle-aged male protagonist. Those are depicted with as much flair – or lack thereof – as what one would expect to find in Porky’s or American Pie, or, perhaps even more galling, Grumpy Old Men.
Such an approach is particularly grating not only for throwing the drama 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.
What’s the word for parents who have lost their children?
In brief, The Door in the Floor revolves around the troubled marriage of a well-to-do middle-aged couple in East Hampton, located about 100 miles from Manhattan: famous children’s book author Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and his wife, Marion (Kim Basinger), both 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 between the legs of numerous women.
Eddie O’Hare (Jon Foster) is 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 sexually involved with and enamored of Marion, who sees him as a replacement for one of the sons she has lost.
As mentioned further up, Tod Williams’ mishandling of the sexual elements in The Door in the Floor are a serious problem. One memorable (for all the wrong reasons) example: a scene in which Ruth catches Eddie penetrating her mother doggie-style belongs to a(n NC-17?) Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy flick.
Compounding matters, Williams can’t resist some unnecessary moralizing, poking fun at Ted for being a middle-aged man who enjoys having sex with multiple partners. (Admittedly, a nude Mimi Rogers scene – she’s Ted’s sketching model – is both stylish and, for an American movie, daring. In truth, Rogers is one of the film’s highlights.)
Elsewhere, the filmmaker must be given credit for portraying his characters as neither heroes nor villains, but unwitting victims. Ted and Marion are victims of the past and of life’s randomness; the interloper Eddie, for his part, has fallen prey to youthful idealism and selfishness.
Thus, Ted’s sexual proclivities and Marion’s emotional distance are depicted as emotional wounds that have not and will not heal – though, regrettably, Ted’s wounds make him look stupidly immature (he’s quite a bit more cunning in the novel) while Marion’s make her look coolly dignified. Indeed, even Marion’s use of Eddie as a comforting tool comes across as an act of (however internalized) desperation, not egocentric calculation.
As for Eddie, when he begins the affair with his boss’ wife, it’s more than just a case of teen lust. He does believe that Ted lacks what it takes to give Marion the tenderness and affection she so desperately craves. Who better for the job than Eddie himself?
Jeff Bridges disappoints
In order to convey its protagonists’ out-of-kilter inner workings, The Door in the Floor needed – and got – top talent. Yet the final result has been disappointingly mixed.
Jon Foster (of TV’s Life As We Know It) succeeds in bringing forth Eddie’s callowness and self-righteous determination, but the other male side of the triangle, Jeff Bridges – normally a first-rate actor (Starman, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, etc.) – 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 express the pain that underlies his character’s outward exuberance.
Superb Kim Basinger
The simmering volcano underneath Marion’s despondent behavior is painfully tangible without Basinger 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, at its best, belongs wholly to her.
The Door in the Floor (2004)
Director: Tod Williams.
Screenplay: 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.
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The Door in the Floor movie cast info via the IMDb.
Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger The Door in the Floor images: Focus Features.
“The Door in the Floor Movie Review: Superlative Kim Basinger in Good-Looking But Uneven Family Drama” last updated in August 2020.