Door in the Floor, The (USA)

directed by: Tod Williams
starring: Jeff Bridges; Kim Basinger; Elle Fanning; Jon Foster
The Door in the Floor

Bruce says: "Beware, spoilers. There is something very off about THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR; I think it’s the writing. And the money. It is very difficult to have bundles of sympathy for those who live in a gorgeous house in a perfect setting with a perfect view, a house where everything is now built-in although one instinctively knows it was not originally designed and constructed that way. Or maybe it’s the fact that any two people as damaged as Ted and Marion Cole should be seeing a therapist on a daily basis rather than acting out in ways which might jeopardize their six year old daughter’s future.

"Ted (Jeff Bridges) and Marion (Kim Basinger) lost their two sons years ago. Their house is a memorial to the boys; even their sister Ruth (Elle Fanning) who was conceived after they died knows every detail about their lives. Ruth has memorized the stories which accompany the photos of the boys that line the hallways and rooms of the rambling house.

"Ted Cole is a writer of children’s books. He describes himself not as a writer or artist (he illustrates his own work) but as an entertainer of children. His most famous story is The Door in the Floor. One night Ruth has a nightmare and enters Ted’s room to awaken him. She says she heard a strange sound. When her father asks what it sounded like she says, 'The sound of someone trying not to make a sound.' Before her father can tell her that would make a good title for his next book, Ruth remarks, 'Your penis looks funny.' 'My penis is funny,' replies her dad as he carries her back to her bed. Will he be able to entertain children by using this dialogue in the new book?

"Marion is a problem. Having another child has not helped her forget her sons. She spends her days staring off into the distance while her daughter frolics with the au pair (Bijou Phillips) and her husband frolics with a succession of lonely Southampton wives who volunteer to be sketched by Ted. To shake things up Ted suggests a trial separation from Marion then hires Eddie the son of a teacher at Exeter to be his assistant for the summer. Ostensibly the position of writer’s assistant will help Eddie with his own writing since he has aspirations to become a writer himself.

"Eddie arrives and quickly realizes he is most needed to be the household chauffeur since Ted is grounded as a result of his latest DUI. Eddie is also a very horny teenager. After clashing with Alice, the au pair, Eddie does little to hide his interest in Marion. He has some close calls: first, while jacking off to a photo of Marion, he is nearly caught in the act when Ted and Ruth barge into the bedroom. Then Eddie is caught by Marion while he is jacking off looking at her bra and panties laid out on the bed. Eddie is mortified, less so when Marion says, 'It’s funny. Let’s just call it funny and leave it at that. It felt good that someone was thinking about me.' Eddie confides that he has thought about her since he first say her in a pink sweater and 'how it must feel against your skin.' The next evening he returns to his room to find the pink sweater with the bra inside and panties peeking out underneath. Marion can spot an eager virgin when she sees one, and soon they are having an affair. 'I want to know more about you,' Eddie tells Marion. 'You know too much already,' is her answer. As Eddie and Marion pause in the hallway to look at the photos, Marion pleads to her lost children, 'Come hither boys and become men.' She turns to Eddie and reveals a strange fact, 'I don’t know if they ever had sex.'

"Ted is busy sketching Evelyn Vaughan (Mimi Rogers) a socialite who lives behind the privet on Gin Lane. She is now posing nude for him, usually the final stage in his dalliances. According to Marion the nude modeling sessions have a pattern of disintegrating into shame and degradation. Poor rich Evelyn is about to be degraded. The sketches of Evelyn provide some fine comic moments which balance the somber tones.

"Predictably, Ruth stumbles in on her mother having sex with Eddie and reports the incident to her father. Slowly the film’s climax begins its cascade instead of exploding with a single burst. The film’s ending is a real treat and, to be fair, the film also has a rolling rhythm which results in a certain magic. To avoid giving any more of the plot away, let’s get back to the writing. There is much frank discussion about sex in this film which I find refreshing because American films too often dance around the topic rather than tackle it. Unfortunately, I also find all the sexual activity and sex talk an unwelcome alternative to creating fully developed characters. Since I did not read John Irving’s Widow for One Year, I don’t know whether the flaws are his or Tod Williams' (THE ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN COLE), the director's. One horrible sin of the director is to visually reveal the tragedy. We don’t need to see what happened; we need to know the Ted and Marion to whom it happened. Heart wrenching tragedy never achieves its full potential if the viewer does not catch a glimpse of the characters before the tragedy occurred. Being told we are looking at damaged goods only does part of the trick. The missing part in this film is the knowing just how damaged the goods were prior to the tragedy. In Ted’s case, my guess is that he never was a really nice man. In the moments when he pulls himself together he appears smug and condescending. As for Marion, Ted opines that she would have been more or less the same with or without the tragedy. Eddie says, 'I don’t think so.' My money’s on Eddie.

"Jeff Bridges creates a very well defined character in Ted Cole. He also deserves credit for the illustrations he did for The Door in the Floor. Kim Basinger’s Marion is mysterious, lovely and quite sympathetic. Jon Foster really shines. He captures the inexperience and naïveté of his teenage character just right. 2.5 cats"

Chris in response to Diane: "I don't think it's entirely implausible that an adult woman would want to have a sexual affair with a virginal male teenager--at least in the context of the John Irving novel that this film is based on. However, it is one of the more outlandish aspects of a fine story that's (unfortunately) in tune with Irving's misogyny.

"As for the film, it's probably the best Irving adaptation so far, which, given wet noodles like THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, isn't that grand an acheivement. Jeff Bridges is wonderful and the primary reason to see it. Kim Basinger is a snooze, although I don't know who could've played her difficult, enigmatic character well. The washed-out, earth-toned cinematography almost makes this worth checking out on a big screen. But, like Bridges' character says of his young protoge's attempts at fiction-writing: "'it's really heartfelt, but kinda boring.' 3 cats"
Diane says: "Well, it's been several weeks since I've seen it, but I'd like to reply
to the previous postings:

"I'll ditto the inconsistencies of time period--I ended up completely confused as to the year it was taking place; good acting by Bridges and Foster; soap-opera-ish story; good point from Bruce about error of director in showing the past tragedy.

"A male acquaintance told me that I cannot speak for all women, but I shall anyway: sex with a virgin high-school boy is not a turn-on for an adult woman. That is a male fantasy. 2 cats."

Michael replies: "I don't get the desire for an adult to have sex with a virginal high school boy either. It's not my male fantasy."

Hilary says: "I agree with Bruce that something feels off in THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR. One of the biggest problems I had with it was the way the time period was presented. The vast majority of the details, such as wardrobe and the vehicles, set the action in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. However, all of a sudden I would notice 21st-century New York State license plates, or somebody opening their car with a remote alarm. Perhaps I’m a little too detail-oriented, but I found it very distracting.

"As for the writing, it was exceptionally faithful to the book, something that rarely occurs in cinematic literary adaptations. John Irving, author of A Widow for One Year, the book from which DOOR is adapted, is a man of obsessions. His characters often have questionable moral structure, particularly when it comes to their sex lives. Having read the book, I was less shocked at Ted (Jeff Bridges) and Marion Cole’s (Kim Basigner) behavior than I might’ve been if I’d seen the movie cold.

"Another element of the film that felt a bit off was Basigner’s performance. She seems comatose, which I suppose was the intention when portraying someone who is emotionally numb, but she might’ve expressed it with a bit more subtlety. Physically Basigner was well cast: age-appropriate, not overly made-up, and looked like she actually could’ve been Ruth’s (Elle Fanning) mother. Although in the book, Ruth was dark and bore a much stronger resemblance to her father. (On a personal note I was thankful that Basinger’s 'man hands' were nowhere near as scary as in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. That would’ve been exceptionally distracting.)

"On the other hand, Bridges does a great job. Ted Cole is as dynamic as his wife is languid. Ted is a marginal novelist who became a successful children’s book author. A charming serial womanizer, but a surprisingly caring father, Ted almost manages not to look ridiculous in a caftan, an enormous straw that resembles something Monet would’ve worn in his garden at Giverny, and a borrowed preppy ensemble of a pink shirt and pants paired with embroidered lord-of-the-manor slippers. Ted’s seduction act is well practiced and a bit stale, yet with Bridges’s performance, you are drawn in despite your better judgement.

"I’m jotting down noms for Bridges for Best Actor and Affonso Gonçalves (TULLY) for cinematography."

Janet says: "Rushed out to this movie on the rec of my cousin John, who is picky. He
said: it has a story, good acting, and a sense of place. All true, but I especially luxuriated in the third. Our mother's family lives in the Hamptons (I'll be covering the Hamptons Film Fest in October), and isn't it great that someone was willing to film the movie right there and not pick a cheaper Northern substitute. (Does anybody else remember the setting of LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND? Ai-yi-yi!) Sense of place, indeed: it's all there, from the Orient Point ferry to the hedges to the outdoor shower.

"The story was not as good, falling apart, as many do, two-thirds of the way through. The earlier parts of the film depend largely on suspense around a family tragedy, shrouded in mystery and little spoken of. Then, at the disastrous two-thirds mark, we hear so much about said tragedy that we want to block our ears. It's too much, too talky, and too graphic. You've heard of the Hamptons share, but how about the Hamptons overshare?

"Acting is top-notch, with excellent work by Kim Basinger as a depressed, bereaved mother. Funny thing about the movies, though: for women, even if you are basically too depressed to move, like Basinger, or so emotionally retarded that you are unable to communicate with other people, like our old friend Amélie, you still manage to look fresh, of-the-moment chic, and poured-into-your-clothes sexy. Am I the only woman who finds that, when I'm depressed or overwhelmed, appearance is the first thing to go? There was no housekeeper at the Hamptons place---who was doing all of Kim's laundry? Perhaps the Male Fantasy Mobile pulls up in the driveway to freshen up your hair, makeup, skin, and clothes.

"Jeff Bridges is entertaining in a stereotypical role of the flamboyant writer/artist who lives by no one's rules, cavorting with local women and wearing a big straw hat like Monet's. Jon Foster is superb as the prep-school student who falls in love with Kim's character. (The role reminds me of Patrick Fugit's in ALMOST FAMOUS---a teen caught up in the world of artists who make their own rules, starstruck and wanting to participate, but everything is moving a little too fast for him.) And a big meow-out to Elle Fanning as the couple's cute little daughter, obviously instructed to look very serious and underplay everything. Do we have a new Scarlett Johannsen in the making?

"Overall, an enjoyable film, but not quite good enough to turn off that little ticker in the mind that keeps track of bad lines, missed details, and other flaws. 3 cats"

Michael says: "Ugh. This disjointed mess didn’t do much for me at all. It’s an adaptation of about 1/3 of John Irving’s novel A Widow for One Year and it felt like part of a story. Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger are a married couple who haven’t really communicated since the tragic death of their sons at age 17 and 15. Actually, they weren’t communicating all that well before then either. Now he’s a successful children’s author/illustrator who is also lauded by academic circles. She’s basically a robot. He hires a young man to come to their summer home to act as his assistant, or rather to drive him around (since he doesn’t have a license) to increasingly degrading ‘sketching’ sessions with a married woman. In the meantime, the young man becomes involved in an intensely passionate affair with the writer’s wife. Add to the mix a strangely adult four-year-old daughter who craves the love of her parents, but elicits little more than routine affection from her mother.

"People lauded Jeff Bridges for his performance, and it’s true, he’s always good. I was hoping to disagree with Hilary about Basinger, always willing to give actresses a chance, but here she took her characters numbness a little too far and just seemed flat. Jon Foster was way out of his league as Eddie, the young writer’s assistant. Fortunately, Mimi Rogers livened things up as the subject of the illustrator’s depravity. Too little, too late. 2 cats."

Thom says: "I found THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR to be a fabulous movie, filled with subtlety, intelligence, and great understanding. Jeff Bridges gives the best performance of his career. I have a very difficult time trying to figure out how the word depravity fits in with his character. I found his exploits with Rogers to be comical. Basinger, one of our most beautiful and accomplished actors is haunting as a woman that has totally lost her emotional balance. Her husband has no idea how to handle her. What finally makes her come to grips with her depression and leave her husband is the lovely affair she has with the naive but complicated intern, thoughtfully played by young Jon Foster. The metaphor of the classic children's book written by Bridges is interwoven seamlessly into this brave and fascinating story. This film has it all! 5 CATS"