The Door In The Floor Movie Review

Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger give a pair of extraordinary performances in "The Door in the Floor" as a couple whose souls and whose marriage have never recovered from the deaths of their teenage sons six years before.

Their lives are like broken teacups glued back together -- they may look undamaged from a distance, but up close it's clear they're now made up of psychological shatters and shards that can never be the same again.

Not that they haven't tried to move forward. Hoping to retard their overwhelming sense of loss, they even had a daughter -- played by 6-year-old Elle Fanning, the not-quite-as-natural little sister of uber-talented 8-year-old Dakota ("Man On Fire") -- who seems to subconsciously understand her function in the family.

The film opens with the kind of subtly captivating, fact-of-life moment that defines its emotional timbre: The curious, melancholy little girl sneaks out of bed in what seems to be a midnight ritual, quietly drags a chair across a wooden floor and climbs up to study one of several dozen artful black-and-white photos hung in a hallway shrine to the dead brothers she never knew -- this one a sanguine shot of the boys at just about her own age.

But as writer-director Tod Williams ("The Adventures of Sebastian Cole") soon reveals in this adaptation from part of John Irving's "Widow for One Year," this family of broken china is starting to come unglued.

Bridges plays Ted Cole, a Hampton-bohemian best-selling author and illustrator of dark, esoteric, metaphorical children's books. He's a dog-eared man whose untreated, unfocused antipathy has begun to emerge in his increasingly vitriolic nude paintings of local married women, with whom he has quiet affairs and then discards unceremoniously.

Basinger is his wife Marion, who is disappearing into a fog of lingering sorrow and instability until Ted hires an assistant he doesn't really need -- a admiring and nervously polite, 18-year-old aspiring author named Eddie (Jon Foster, younger brother of "Liberty Height's" Ben Foster), whose transparent sexual obsession with Marion rekindles something in her shifting psyche.

Jealousy and bitterness, forgotten tenderness and echoing heartbreak percolate under the couple's level-headed surface in ways that may lead to healing -- or may be disastrous -- as Eddie becomes a pawn in their trial separation. But he's also coming into his own as a person to be reckoned with, more aware of the costs of this rift than either Ted or Marion.

The many rich facets of the characters are what fuel the film's absorbing intelligence and depth -- especially the evolving dynamic between Ivy-League-bound Eddie and functionally off-kilter, caftan-disheveled Ted as they move from mentor and admirer to testing each other's mettle. In one scene Ted explains that he's throwing Eddie out of the house, then offers him a friendly beer while further stating that he won't be giving the kid a lift to the ferry. This dichotomy of affection is part of how their relationship functions, and each of the film's characters has vulnerabilities that are in constant flux.

"The Door in the Floor" hits a couple narrative bumps that break its stride a little -- especially in the progression of Marion's uncomfortable affair with young Eddie, whom she uses as a lover and a surrogate son. The liaison begins so awkwardly it's borderline absurd and progresses through some bad choices that are irresponsible at best, unbelievable at worst. But even this is based in character: Marion is in such a peculiar, fragile place emotionally that her indulgence of Eddie is in many ways both therapeutic and self-destructive.

Most satisfying (although that may be a bad choice of words) is that the story does not come to a tidy resolution, but rather, like both real life and Ted Cole's odd kids' books, leaves one wondering, for better or worse, what lies in its characters' futures.


Comments

The Door In The Floor Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, LIMITED: Wednesday, July 14, 2004<br> EXPANDS: Friday, July 23, 2004

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