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The Door in the Floor Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/16/2004

Movies based on John Irving novels have been in the past better than average.  Iíve never read any of them, but Iíve seen almost all of their adaptations.  The first one, 1982ís The World According to Garp, gave Robin Williams his first semi-dramatic role.  Many critics hated 1998ís Simon Birch, but I liked it.  Michael Caine won his second Oscar for 1999ís The Cider House Rules, which also scored an Oscar for Irvingís screenplay based on his own novel.  Now we have The Door in the Floor, a movie based on the first third of Irvingís novel A Widow for One Year.  While I donít see any Oscar attention heading this way for the movie, like its predecessors, it is a better than average movie.

 

Childrenís author and illustrator Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and his wife, Marion (Kim Basinger), are going through a trial separation following the death of their teenage sons, 17-year-old Thomas (Tod Harrison Williams) and 15-year-old Timothy (Carter Williams), in a car accident years ago.  They thought that having a new child, their now 4-year-old daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning), would solve their problems, but it didnít.  Ted constantly drinks and cheats on Marion, most recently with Mrs. Evelyn Vaughn (Mimi Rogers), a former lover who still poses in the nude for his drawings.  Marion is in a deep depression, and even the mention of the car accident will paralyze her with grief.  Eddie OíHare (Jon Foster) is a 16-year-old Exeter prep school student and aspiring writer whose Exeter English teacher father, Minty (John Rothman), gets him a summer internship working for his old colleague Ted.  Eddie lives with Ted for the summer in his East Hampton home, but instead of learning writing techniques from him, he ends up being more of an errand boy and chauffer for Ted (who lost his license), which becomes a source of frustration.  Eddie is awkward around girls, and even though he could try flirting with Ruthís 18-year-old nanny, Alice (Bijou Phillips), he finds himself more attracted to and fantasizing about Marion, who he sees during the daytime when he is typing up Tedís manuscripts at the coupleís apartment in town.  After Marion catches him doing unnatural things to her underwear and pictures, she begins a sexual affair with him, which is creepy because Eddie is the same age as her late sons.  Trying not to get caught by Ted, his presence in their lives forces both of them to finally face their demons and make some lasting decisions.

 

The performances all around are certainly worthy of Oscar gold, but as Iíve said many times before (and have been proven right)ÖOscar seeking movies released before September donít stand much of a chance, unless they are a major release with wide distribution (like last yearís Seabiscuit.)  Bridges is always good, but is constantly overlooked.  Basinger has perfected the depression look, and you can see genuine pain in her face.  Fanning is the spitting image of her older sister Dakota, and it looks like she is following her sisterís footsteps in the acting chops department as well.  Relative newcomer Foster is good, which makes me even more excited to see him in this fallís upcoming ABC series ďLife as We Know It.Ē  I only really had a problem with Rogers, but only because her subplot seemed silly and out of place with the rest of the movie (at one point she goes on a jealous, knife-wielding rampage after Ted, which was just odd.)

It may not be heading for Oscar gold, but if youíre tired of the popcorn flicks in the megaplexes and you want to see some good old acting, check out The Door in the Floor.  The director, Tod Williams, who also adapted Irvingís novel for the screen, is no stranger to dysfunctional family movies.  His only other movie, 1998ís The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, featured a family about as screwed up as you can get.  Iím glad he decided to only do the first third of the book, because if he had adapted the whole thing and made it three or more hours long, I could see it ending up very boring.  I donít know why it took him six years to come out with his second film, but Iíd like to see another one soon, and I hope his studio releases it in December, so it has a fighting chance.

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