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Focus Features

Official Site

Director: Tod Williams

Producers: Anne Carey, Michael Corrente, Tod Hope

Written by: Tod Williams

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Elle Fanning, Mimi Rogers, Louis Arcella


To put into perspective just how overwhelmingly underwhelming The Door In The Floor is, please consider the following anecdote: Immediately following the screening of the film, I ventured to the local optometrist’s office for my annual checkup. First, I waited for just under half an hour in the magazine-laced reception area, fending off sleep, while an elderly gentleman glared disapprovingly at my unshaven face. I was then escorted into a dim observation room in which my eyes were numbed, prodded with a stick that measured their pressure, and dilated. When the doctor arrived some 20 minutes later, my forcibly extended pupils were terribly sensitive to light and I could not focus on objects near my face. He made me read the eye chart, asking ad nauseum whether certain lenses which he switched with inane regularity allowed me to see the chart or further obscured my vision. He then talked shop with me as he made notes in my file, informing me that it was impossible for contacts to slide back behind the eye (just an old wives’ tale, faithful hybrid readers—you heard it here first!) because of a protective membrane. He also shared with me that the sun can do permanent damage to the delicate innards of the oculus, demonstrating where the trauma can occur on a model, but that I shouldn’t worry because it would take a good minute or two of solid sun-gazing for anything necessary to be burned away. While putting my contacts back in my head, I overheard some office-denizens talking about how one of the women there resembled Reese Witherspoon’s character from Legally Blonde in so many hilarious and charming ways—only this girl was a brunette, obviously negating all other similarities (or so I thought). “You’re like… Legally Brunette!” one of the women yelped, surprised by her own spontaneous cleverness, leaving her coworkers in stitches. And, as I left, I was handed a strip of dark plastic which, when unrolled, adheres to one’s face and acts as an impromptu light-shield to vulnerable eyes. It did not make me look “cool.”

As I drove home, squinting like someone who had just been simultaneously blasted in both pupils with laser pointers, tears streaming down my face, I realized that I enjoyed my time at the optometrist’s exponentially more than my viewing of The Door In The Floor; it, at least, had been educational.

Ted Cole (Bridges) is a Shel Silverstein-esque writer and artist of successful children’s books who lives in a quaint New England town with his wife, Marion (Basinger) and their daughter, Ruth (Fanning). Happiness, however, eludes the seemingly perfect Cole family, and Ted and Marion’s marriage hinges on the verge of dissolution. An accident robbed them of their two statuesque sons, Thomas and Timothy (contributing to the puritanical belief that the names of all men in all families should begin with the same letter), an accident from which Marion has not been able to recover fully. Ted, adjusted, eccentric, and almost constantly nude or sheathed only by a soiled blue mumu, suggests to beautiful, stoic Marion that a trial separation might be in order, to which she just stares distractedly into the nothingness (if she were a character in a video game instead of a film, would be her “special move”). To help with matters around the homestead, Ted allows Eddie (Foster), a lanky high school student interested in a career in writing, to act as his assistant and observe how an experienced writer operates. Eddie soon learns with disappointment that Ted spends the majority of his time playing squash, disrobing and showering in front of Eddie, and conducting an affair with Mrs. Vaughn (the pendulously breasted Rogers), a local socialite. Eddie’s only contact with writing comes in the form of retyping Ted’s newest work, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, to accommodate for revisions every morning. To kill time, he relentlessly masturbates to photographs of Marion hung on the walls, and to purloined articles of her clothing. When she discovers his affection for her by walking in on him as he fondles the bishop in a scene that can only be described as “hot” (I mean “embarrassing”), the unlikely pair begin a sex affair of their own, and she teaches the young virgin what it is to “be a man.” As stupid, naïve Eddie begins to fall in love with the experienced MILF, she only retreats further into herself and continues her everlasting game of “Hey, check out my mannequin impression!” But, as the FOX television network has taught us all, good times must always go bad. Affairs are discovered, tough choices are made, and life at the Cole residence will never, ever be the same.

The most painful aspect of stepping through The Door In The Floor (based on the John Irving novel A Widow for One Year) is observing with helpless annoyance as the story trudges onward, yet makes no effort to fully develop its characters—a suicidally unwise methodology in an adult drama based solely on “realistic” characters and their “mature” struggles. There is little comedy and no action to speak of to dilute the oatmeal-thick mire of morose crises into which the viewer is lowered, like Arnold at the finale of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Ted, Marion, or Eddie, the three focal characters of the story, all appropriated near-equal screen-time, fail to develop even slightly throughout the film. Sure, things happen to them, they have sex a lot with each other and with others, but, essentially, they are the same people at film’s end as they are at its onset. Ted is still an eccentric bastard, Marion is still inconsolably gloomy, and Eddie is still just a clueless teenage moron (with a heart of gold). The interesting aspects of the film—the notion that a children’s writer can be assailed by very adult problems and the dynamic between a young writer and a veteran writer—are ignored in favor of innocuous subplots involving Mrs. Vaughn’s gardener Eduardo (Arcella), the indulgent development of Ted and Mrs. Vaughn’s affair, and tedious conversations which take the characters nowhere. While the performances elevate the film from cataclysmic levels of ineptitude (with the exception of Basinger, who overplays sadness to the point of stripping all humanity from Marion’s bones), it fails to adhere to one of the fundamentals of storytelling: The characters must change.

I am unsure whether the aforementioned fault should be attributed to John Irving’s novel or Tod Williams’ adaptation, since I haven’t read the novel, but I’m willing to place the entirety of my meager income on Williams being the problem. Because his screenplay contains no life or vigor, his completed film is a direct reflection of that fact, despite the inclusion of actors, sets, locations, and the rest. And worse, the entire effort reeks of pretension, as if Williams wanted desperately to craft an art film for the masses (which, of course, is impossible). It’s almost unbearable to watch as Ted delivers his critique of young Eddie’s first written work, verbally shredding it, methodically detailing each mistake that was made, and offering “seasoned” advice on how to correct each fault. At the same time, a metaphysical clash of ethos should explode in the viewers’ minds, as they realize that a character in a film with significant story problems is delivering a missive about story essentials and writing well. It is all enough to make me hope that, should I ever happen upon a door in the floor in my travels, it might allow me access to my youth once again, to the moment just before I saw the film The Door In The Floor, and that, given a second chance, I will feign cholera to dodge my responsibility of seeing it, and of having to write this review.

—Nathan Baran

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