I had heard buzz about The Door in the Floor when it was initially released, especially for Jeff Bridges’ performance (which doesn’t surprise me, as he is one of the most underrated American actors working today). But it had the curse of Movies That Came Out in Spring, meaning it got swept over for awards season. The movie is not big and splashy; it is actually a small, intimate drama… yet it stuck in my craw, and I found myself thinking about it long afterwards.
Bridges plays Ted, a famous children’s author that lives with his wife in a blustery, upscale, arty seaside town. (In the extras, it is made known more explicitly that this area is The Hamptons on Long Island, but for those of us non-East-Coasters to whom that means nothing, just substitute your own little hoity-toity small-town enclave.) Ted is married to the gorgeous and withdrawn Marion (radiantly sad Kim Basinger). A tragedy haunts their marriage: the loss of their two teenage sons in a car accident a few years before. In a failed attempt to save their marriage, they had another child (precocious Elle Fanning), who is basically being raised by a nanny.
The story takes place over one summer. Ted has decide that he and Marion should separate, at least temporarily. He keeps himself busy by painting and philandering with the local married ladies, while Marion stares off into space. Into their lives comes a young man named Eddie (Jon Foster), a student who is an aspiring author, that Ted agrees to take on for the summer as an assistant. Being an assistant to Ted, it turns out, means nothing other than being a chauffeur for his flings (Ted’s license was revoked), so Eddie has extra time on his hands, which he soon directs towards the crush-worthy Marion.
The Door in the Floor is an intimate drama that reminded me of the good parts of In the Bedroom… except that this movie doesn’t cop out in its third act. The tension builds as Ted, Eddie, and Marion shift roles in each other’s lives. Ted’s immaturity is revealed, Eddie grows into emotional adulthood, and Marion… well, Marion has her own issues to deal with.
The superb acting propels the story. Bridges and Basinger only have three scenes together, and in two of those scenes, there is no dialogue. Their final wordless scene toghether is probably 5 minutes of the best acting that you’ll see on screen all year. I had to rewind it and watch it again. Foster, a young actor I’d never seen before, manages to hold his own admirably with these two pros, and Fanning, as the innocent little kid caught in the middle, shows that natural acting ability runs in the family (her older sister is Dakota).
The extras on the DVD add extra insight into the film. Included are the always-good Anatomy of a Scene from the Sundance Channel, as well as the obligatory behind-the-scenes bits. I found the interviews with John Irving particularly enlightening. As Door in the Floor is based on the first third of John Irving’s novel A Widow for One Year, it is interesting from a writer’s perspective to see how a story is massaged, and in some cases improved upon, by the screenwriter’s adaptation.