A couple weeks ago I attended a screening of The Door in the Floor, which opens in NYC and LA (and I guess some other places) today. And that headline is true. There's a lot of nudity in this movie: Mimi Rogers gives some full-frontal and Kim Basinger has a few all nude scenes, and Jeff Bridges (who is excellent here) shows some tush. Do we get even one shot of Bijou, the girl who wore basically handkerchiefs or nothing throughout the film Bully? Nope. Does it matter? Nope. In fact, she's kind of skinny, and the 48 yearold Rogers and 51 (!) year old Basinger look amazing. But enough about skin.
I was originally a bit conflicted about my feelings regarding this film. But The Door in the Floor is a film that stuck with me a bit. After seeing it, I told someone that it was kind of like a mix between Tadpole and In the Bedroom, but I don't know that it's really such a good comparison. I mention Tadpole only because this film involves an older woman having a sexual affair with a teenage boy, but The Door in the Floor is better and not really a comedy. In the Bedroom deals with some similar themes of parental loss and sadness, but really in a different way, and the main similarity is in overall mood and tone.
For those of you who don't know, The Door in the Floor is apparently based on the first 100 pages of John Irving's novel "A Widow For One Year." It basically depicts the story of the disintegrating marriage of noted philanderer, children's author, and artist Ted Cole (Bridges) and his wife Marion (Basinger), years after the tragic death of their two teenage sons, an event from which Marion has never quite recovered. The story in the film is told through the eyes of Eddie (newcomer Jon Foster), a teenager who has traveled out to the Coles' Hamptons house to "apprentice" Ted as he works on a new children's book. He gets caught up in the middle of this troubled relationship, especially when he starts fucking Marion.
I haven't read Irving's novel, so I don't know the liberties taken by writer-director Tod Williams in forming his adaptation. (I do know that this part of the book did not take place in the present day, as the movie does.) Williams previous feature was The Adventures of Sebastian Cole which I liked but didn't love. (He also once was married to Famke Janssen, and recently married Gretchen Mol, so I bow to him no matter how good his movies!) This film is a big step forward for him as the world he creates was compelling enough that after my screening I went right into the Borders next door to the Kips Bay Loews and bought "A Widow For One Year" (sans movie-tie-in cover, thank god. I hate those). The only major problem I have with Williams' treatment of the story comes near the end when I feel he shows the audience a bit too much. There is a wonderfully climactic scene between Ted and Eddie, when the answer to the one question looming over the entire story is revealed. Instead of letting Ted, whose character is supposed to be a writer and natural storyteller, simply tell Eddie and the audience, Williams cuts away repeatedly to flashbacks. It's unfortunate because it actually makes a very moving story and still-powerful scene less-so.
It's also unnecessary because Bridges is so damn good in this movie that by the time his Ted relates this story to Eddie, I was completely wrapped up in this character and riveted to his tale. Bridges gives one of his best performances in a long time. His lip smacking style can often be annoying, but it works for Ted, emphasizing his egotism and overconfidence, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bridges pulls-out some awards-time consideration. His treatment of the suave and arrogant while caring and emotionally hardened Ted is never over-the-top, although it easily could have been. It also provides a wonderful contrast for what the audience should see in Marion, the distant, still-emotionally-devastated mother who is so damaged she can't even truly connect and care for their young daughter Ruth (played by Elle Fanning, who you won't be surprised upon seeing her is Dakota's younger sis).
I say "what the audience should see" biggest the biggest problem with this film is Basinger. Her body may look great (really, really great!); her acting, not so much. I think Basinger is absolutely terrible in this film. Yes, she's supposed to be distant and detached from everything; a numb woman who can't really deal with the world or reality anymore. I get it. She doesn't have to sound like she's reading every line from the script. Every piece of dialogue is just that: a line read, sounding as if she's at the table with the rest of the cast and crew going through the script together for the first time. She's disconnected from absolutely everything and everyone, including every character and every interaction, and even if one argues this is what she's supposed to do, the problem is that her acting is easily on view. I never stopped thinking, "Hmmm ... look at Kim Basinger just mutilate the role of Marion." She consistently took me out of the movie. And since many of her scenes are with the young and obviously somewhat inexperienced Foster, her poor performance rubs off (no pun intended) on him; which is a shame because it makes some of the scenes that should be intimate and touching, while also somewhat disturbing, just sort of corny and laughable. And by the way, I don't hate Basinger as an actress by any means. She was great in L.A. Confidential; absolutely fine in 8 Mile; and perfectly adequate if not very good in plenty of other roles. This one? Above her head. Emotionally, at least.
And as I said, it's a shame because if it wasn't for her performance, I think I might have found The Door in the Floor far more engrossing and moving than it ultimately was. Still, I give Williams credit for constructing what is ultimately a wonderful, modern, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic melodrama. There seems to be a new focus on these kinds of stories in the world of modern cinema, especially the indie film world. On some level, these films come from the same cloth as those of 50s melodrama master Douglas Sirk. There is an underlying tone of loss and despair among the upper-middle class or even affluent set within pleasant suburban, country or beachside settings that inhabits films like The Door in the Floor, In the Bedroom, House of Sand and Fog and this summer's We Don't Live Here Any More (which like In the Bedroom is from stories by Andre Dubus) to create a new kind of modern melodrama tinged with tragedy that is as representative -- as well as subversive -- of our world now as Sirk's and Nicholas Ray's films were of that period in the middle of the last century. A world slightly removed from our own, but highly recognizable, filled with hope and fear, happiness and sadness, love and loss.
It's an interesting trend that unsurprisingly comes from the same producers who brought us the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this year and last year's compelling 21 Grams, and is currently making the adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain. This Is That Productions, featuring a majority of the team that was behind New York indie stalwart Good Machine (the rest of that company essentially became Focus Features, the distributors of The Door in the Floor), continues to produce some of the most interesting human dramas in theaters today, and although The Door in the Floor is not a perfect movie, it's worth the price of admission.