The Door in the Floor

Cast:
Jeff Bridges as Ted Cole
Kim Basinger as Marion Cole
Jon Foster as Eddie O’Hare
Elle Fanning as Ruth Cole
Harvey Loomis as Dr. Loomis
Bijou Phillips as Alice
Mimi Rogers as Evelyn Vaughn
Louis Arcella as Eduardo Gomez
Amanda Posner as Frame Shop Clerk
Robert LuPone as Mendelssohn
Larry Pine as Interviewer
John Rothman as Minty O’Hare
Mike S. Ryan as Reception Fan
Libby Langdon as Woman at Reception
Rachel Style as Bookstore Assistant

Story:
Ted Cole (Bridges) is a children’s book author and artist, who separates from his dysfunctional wife Marion (Kim Basinger) after the death of their two sons. Things get more complicated when he hires Eddie (Jon Foster), a high school student, who becomes obsessed with his wife, creating even more turmoil within their troubled family.

Analysis:
Based on the first third of John Irving’s novel “A Widow for One Year”, The Door in the Floor is the latest drama to try to capture the stirring emotions of films like In the Bedroom and The House of Sand and Fog. Because it is John Irving, you would automatically expect something a bit richer with quirky characters and situations that you may not see in more traditional dramas.

The story revolves around Ted and his shaky marriage that was so adversely affected by the death of their sons in a car accident, that his wife spends much of the day in a catatonic state. Ted’s decision for a trial separation is done solely for him to use his artistic skills to lull willing female models into passive-aggressive affairs. Marion seems oblivious to Ted’s philandering ways due to her grief, but their young daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning) has been the worst affected by her parents’ behavior, since she can’t seem to get the love of her mother that she needs, so instead, she obsesses over the pictures of her dead brothers that are scattered around the house. Maybe it’s cathartic for the family to keep the boys in their memories, but it doesn’t seem like a very healthy way of living. Then again, anyone familiar with Irving’s The World According to Garp will remember that he already used a car accident to create turmoil within a family, so this isn’t exactly new ground.

When Eddie enters their life, he makes Marion feel wanted and loved again, but he also get caught in the mind games between the two, passing messages back and forth as he succumbs to their odd living situation, with each spouse alternating at the house a night at a time. It’s obvious to all that Eddie reminds them of their sons who attended the same school. The premise of a high school student having an affair with an older woman isn’t exactly a new one, and it’s impossible to not make comparisons with The Graduate or Carnal Knowledge, the latter which used a similar summer beachside setting. Eddie’s growing obsession with Marion and their relationship is handled well, but it’s already hard to empathize with Ted or Marion, so when Eddie betrays his boss by having an affair with his wife, it makes his character equally dubious.

Tod William’s script is excellent, perfectly capturing the spirit of Irving’s work, while allowing Bridges to make the most out of his quirky character, who is the best part of the movie. Although the nature of the story and movie is rather somber, Bridges elicits laughs from his every appearance—usually either in the nude or wearing what looks like some sort of African nightshirt. Bridges proves himself to be an amazingly versatile actor, able to handle the drama with a lighter touch, which makes him the most ideal actor to play a John Irving character since John Lithgow. This really is Bridges’ best role since playing “The Dude” in The Big Lebowsky from the Brothers Coen.

Basinger’s character spends much of the movie in a morose frame of mind, so she doesn’t really have much of an opportunity to show off her acting skills. There are only a few scenes between her and Bridges, so their relationship is primarily seen through their interactions with Eddie. These scenes between Foster and the veteran actors show off this young actor’s promise, while the even younger Elle Fanning proves herself to be much cuter and more tolerable than her older sister Dakota. She is responsible for some of the movie’s most memorable moments, like when she walks in her mother having sex with Eddie. Mimi Rodgers is also good in an underplayed role as Mrs. Vaughn, Ted’s model with whom he has an affair, and she gives a daring full frontal nude scene that conveys her character’s degradation at his hands.

The first half of the movie is a bit slow and flat, as Eddie tries to find his way among this family and their grief, but there is a sudden change of tone in the second half, as the movie turns into a fast-paced comedy. Since this type of humor wasn’t established earlier in the movie, it seems almost inappropriate to the serious direction it seems to be going. Much of the humor revolves around the subplot of Ted’s affair with Mrs. Vaughn, which is important to establish his lack of character, but far too much time is spent resolving that part of the story, which is trivial compared to the central story. By the time we finally learn what happened to Ted and Marion’s sons, the build-up has been diluted by the comedy, so it’s not nearly as powerful or effective as it might have been.

Despite those pacing problems, the movie ends in the perfect place, but knowing that it covers only the first third of Irving’s book will make you interested in picking up the book to see where the characters go from there.

The Bottom Line:
Fans of Jeff Bridges and John Irving will appreciate Tod Williams’ efforts to bring this story to life, but others may be thrown by the eclectic nature of the movie’s drastic jumps from drama to comedy. Then again, that makes The Door in the Floor even more of a John Irving work, and the way that these characters and their story comes together will provide a number of decent payoffs for those patient enough to accept the characters and their flaws.

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