The Door In The Floor

on July 14, 2004 by Sheri Linden
"The Door in the Floor" is a compelling, beautifully acted drama about a couple ill-equipped to deal with tragedy. Transposing one section of John Irving's novel "A Widow for One Year" from 1958 to the present, writer-director Tod Williams has crystallized the story's searing, darkly comic events through the prism of a haunted marriage. As the central couple, Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger (who previously co-starred in 1987's "Nadine") are variously charming, repellent and heartbreaking. Bridges' indelible portrayal of a dissolute children's book author could reap the major award this fine actor has yet to receive.

Williams' adaptation shifts the focus from the little girl born into a shattered household to the coming-of-age of a teenage boy caught smack in its middle. It's been years since Ted and Marion Cole's two sons died in an accident--the details of which are not revealed until late in the film--but their memory maintains a terrible grip on the family. Four-year-old Ruth (Elle Fanning) ritualistically communes with photos of the dead brothers she never met, and seems to know them better than she does her emotionally absent parents.

Door in the Floor Into the chasm steps 16-year-old Eddie (Jon Foster), an aspiring writer hired as a summer assistant for Ted, a bestselling writer-illustrator who says with practiced disingenuousness, "I'm just an entertainer of children and I like to draw." (The film's title is the name of one of his books.) Though he's asked to type minor revisions, in truth Eddie's chief role is that of chauffeur for the hard-drinking, license-deprived Ted. Eddie falls hard for Marion, who finds respite from her paralyzing grief in their affair. Ted, meanwhile, indulges his taste for lonely women under the transparent cover of artist's modeling sessions. Mimi Rogers bares it all in a brave, harsh portrait of the desperate Hamptonite currently caught in a mutually exploitive entanglement with Ted.

The film's one credulity-testing element is the idea that Ted's monochromatic illustrations would be a sensation with kids. Even Maurice Sendak's darkest tales are full of whimsy, a quality lacking in the pictures we see, however lovely. But that's a mere quibble over this absorbing, graceful drama. Widescreen camerawork underscores the divide between the serene Long Island setting, suffused with summer light, and the domestic chaos beneath the moneyed surface. Starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Mimi Rogers, Elle Fanning and Bijou Phillips. Directed and written by Tod Williams. Produced by Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Michael Corrente. A Focus release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and graphic images, and language. Running time: 111 min

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