The Door in the Floor
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Tod Williams
with Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Mimi Rogers, Elle Fanning, Bijou Phillips, Louis Arcella, Donna Murphy, Harvey Loomis, Larry Pine, John Rothman, LeAnna Croom
release US 14.Jul.04, UK 11.Feb.05 lff
04/US 1h51

Good grief: Basinger and Bridges

bridges basinger foster

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Based on John Irving's A Widow For One Year, this film has all of those Irving trademarks--quirky characters and astonishing moments of humour and tragedy. And it's also a finely made drama about a seriously disturbed family.

Several years after their teen sons died in an accident, Ted and Marion (Bridges and Basinger) are still struggling to cope with their grief. Ted throws himself into writing and illustrating children's books, as well as seducing the women in their Long Island community. Marion is still too stunned to do much of anything, including look after their precocious young daughter Ruth (Fanning). Into this strained atmosphere comes Ted's naive summer intern Eddie (Foster), who's about to learn more than he bargained for.

The three central characters are so strong, and the journey each takes so specific, that the film is almost overwhelming in its emotional resonance. It often feels far too constructed, like most Irving stories, as it tries to say too much to us. Fortunately, Williams writes and directs with a strong sense of natural-life rhythms and wit. Each character is a bundle of eccentricities--Ted's casual nudism, Marion's stony silences, Ruth's boldness, Eddie's urge to soak it all up.

The actors bring these complex characters to life with a superb attention to detail. Bridges is especially wonderful in the most colourful role; Basinger registers at the opposite end of the scale, in the silences; Foster brings us into the story as the one character we can identify with. And the 6-year-old Fanning proves that big sister Dakota wasn't such a freak of nature: here's another gifted mini-actress, wise far beyond her years.

The title refers to one of Ted's books, a tale of death and a fear of the unknown, and Williams shoots the film with an almost fable-like atmosphere that feels eerily timeless. Indeed, Ted and Marion are stuck in place, unable to recover from horrific tragedy. And while their sadness infuses the film, their lively sense of humour comes through strongly in several dazzling moments that suddenly shift between raucous comedy and searing emotion, and vice versa.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 26.Oct.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall