Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Mimi Rogers, Elle Fanning, Bijou Phillips
Written by: Tod Williams, based on John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year
Directed by: Tod Williams
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and graphic images and language
Running Time: 111
Date: 06/18/2004
IMDB

The Door in the Floor (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Knocking 'Door'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The third recent adaptation of a John Irving work, The Door in the Floor, fares about the same as the previous two, Simon Birch (1998) and The Cider House Rules (1999). It's timid, uneven and unmemorable.

Jeff Bridges stars as Ted Cole, a children's author and illustrator who lives in New York's East Hampton area. He parades around in a kimono, or naked, drinking and sleeping with his female models. Ted is married to the gorgeous Marion (Kim Basinger), who sulks over the death of their teenage son, even though their 4 year-old daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning, Dakota's younger sister) is a treasure.

Their world turns upside down when a summer intern, Eddie (Jon Foster) shows up to learn about writing technique from the arrogant author. While Eddie spends half his time re-typing an entire manuscript just to change one word (Ted doesn't use a computer), he spends the other half fantasizing about Marion. Before long, his fantasies turn to reality and they embark upon an affair.

As directed by second-timer Tod Williams (The Adventures of Sebastian Cole), The Door in the Floor tackles each sequence as if it were a separate movie; the tones never match. Certain scenes play out as broad comedy, such as Ted enjoying an outdoor shower in the nude or being chased by a jilted former model (Mimi Rogers) who is out for Ted's blood. But Marion's sorrow is played dead straight.

Other scenes, such as Eddie being caught masturbating to Marion's underwear -- or almost any scene with Eddie alone -- fall flat. Eddie begins as comically shy and inept, and he sticks out of the film's fabric like a bad stitch. Worse, as Eddie's confidence grows throughout the course of the summer, he becomes less and less believable.

The bad casting of Foster doesn't help; he's a bland rice-cake of an actor whose face I can't even picture anymore. It's sad that most of the parts in movies today are for twenty-something men, and the overflowing stable of actors available for them stresses quantity over quality.

Fortunately, Bridges and Basinger more than rise to the occasion. They seem to be babysitting or coaching their inexperienced co-star at times, but just the act of watching them do so can be pleasing enough.

Williams does a remarkable job of capturing the feel of time and place, the slightly overcast summer weather, the relaxed feel of the nearby water and the murmured secrets of a small town. In addition, it's refreshing to see Bridges' performance as the artist. The process of writing and painting -- and even the finished products -- smack of beautiful truth.

Unfortunately, Williams ruins it with a badly placed scene showing a fawning college girl meeting her idol and revealing to him that his hit children's book, The Door in the Floor, is actually about a vagina -- just in case we didn't get it.

It sounds like a jumble, but the major problem with The Door in the Floor -- and many other movies today -- is the bungling of the coming-of-age tale. Most filmmakers view childhood with nostalgia, avoiding the natural horrors and joys, and so it always comes out as false and goopy. If only we could have seen a movie about the adult characters by themselves. They don't have the answers any more than Eddie does, but they're a whole lot clearer about their doubt and frustration.

DVD Details: This movie might play better on the small screen in a more intimate setting. Universal/Focus Features' DVD comes with an "Anatomy of a Scene" special, a commentary track, a featurette on John Irving and a making-of featurette.