Saturday, July 24, 2004

A review of The Door in the Floor

If I was going to be crass and Hollywood-like, I'd call The Door in the Floor a cross between The Graduate and Ordinary People. In other words, part of the story deals with a family grieving the premature deaths of young men, and another part deals with a relationship between a younger man and an older woman. I'm told the story is based on only the first (and best) part of John Irving's A Widow for One Year, and that it's quite faithful. In my opinion Jeff Bridges is a national treasure, and his performance here is, as usual, superior. On the other hand, I was surprised how good Kim Basinger is. She was great in L.A. Confidential, her Oscar-winning role, but I was starting to think of that performance as a fluke because she's done so many bad films before and since. Young actor Jon Foster does an admirable job rising to the level of Bridges and Basinger. While I'm at it, let's not forget to dish out some praise to Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota, who, I'm sorry, gives me the creeps), who manages to be convincing as a young girl who sees her share of trauma. Partly because of the large amount of sex and psychology, the story is thoroughly compelling as family melodramas go, and it even reveals a steady sense of humor, but I was expecting more of a surprise at the end than I got, which is the critics' fault more than the film's. Still, the story is unusal in exploring and sympathizing with a damaged mother (aren't mothers always portrayed as perfect or too overbearingly loving?), and as a coming of age story it covers some fairly edgy material. The final shot of the film is a doozy, suggesting an unexpected depth of pain I hadn't expected. It also suggests an unexpected second (or, actually, third) meaning to a story we hear in the course of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that director Tod Williams had previously helmed a much underrated film from a few years ago that I loved, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, and while I wasn't sure he mastered this material 100% (for one thing, I think the film relies too much on its score to tell you how to feel, sometimes against the natural grain of a scene, as when Bridges' character is fleeing an angry lover), he has clearly demonstrated growth and power as a director. This is a better film than most of the Oscar-bait December releases of the few couple years. (Trivially, one sequence reminded me of an Oscar-nominated short film from last year, Squash.) (3 1/2 stars out of 4)



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