The Door in the Floor (R)
Someone needs to impose a ban on films adapted from John Irving novels. Aside from fattening the coffers of the Charles Dickens of latter-day New England, Irving-birthed films do little to capture, or even suggest, the richly layered worlds he creates so well. The great thing about an Irving novel is that even if a particular element doesn't work for you -- his attempts at magical realism come to mind -- there's still a buffet of subplots, themes and characters to engage with. Of course, the strictures of Hollywood filmmaking leave little room for such surpluses, and so, pared to its essential element; an Irving film invariably drowns in its own portentousness.
Based on Irving's novel A Widow For One Year, The Door in the Floor has been lauded for the performance of Jeff Bridges. However, Bridges succeeds despite a hollow script and the aesthetic sensibility of its director, which could be best likened to an L.L. Bean catalog overdosing on nihilism.
The story begins as 16-year-old Eddie O'Hare (Jon Foster) begins the perfect summer job for an aspiring writer, assisting Ted Cole (Bridges), a bourgeois bohemian children's author, whose hobbies include squash (on his own makeshift court), prancing around in the nude and philandering with the women he paints. Eddie arrives in time to serve as a buffer between Ted and his wife Marian (Kim Basinger), who are in the process of separating. The demise of their marriage, we learn, was the result of their inability to cope with the loss of their two teenage sons in a car accident several years before.
Ensuring that Ted and Marian never get too close to closure is their 4-year-old daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning). With spaghetti-like blond hair and a doughy blue-eyed gaze, Ruth has become preternaturally fixated on the black-and-white photos of her dead brothers that litter the family's beachfront house.
Though he's not terribly quick to realize it, Eddie's job is less to serve the writer he venerates than to service his wife Marian. Eddie, for his part, wastes no time elevating Marian into a maternal sex goddess, as he's constantly pilfering her underclothes to inspire midday onanism.
That these two should have a sexual relationship seems implausible and, once commenced, is even more baffling. Eddie's 16 and Marian is well into her forties. What's in it for him is quite clear; he's a virgin after all and Basinger, let's face it, has aged impossibly well. However, Williams directs their lovemaking as if it were surgery. One half expects to hear someone shout "Scalpel!" More to the point though, is that for Marian, it's never clear what she hopes to gain from a summer of what can only be described as mercy sex.
The Door in the Floor is at its best when Bridges is behaving badly. Whether it's the seemingly misogynistic pleasure he derives from getting women to pose for him in the nude, or having a young tyro at his disposal, he's quite viable as a half-man, half-ogre artiste brute. When asked about his work, he's sure to remark that he's "just an entertainer of small children who likes to draw." He takes pleasure from his own description, as it manages to reek of false modesty and charm at the same time.
The Door in the Floor is plagued by too many inchoate and nonsensical relationships. Fortunately, Bridges is fully realized as Ted, but he's not enough to pull this film from the long cool summer of its discontent.
-- John Dicker
Kimball's Twin Peak