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In The Bedroom (R)
Official Site
Director: Todd Field
Producers: Graham Leader, Ross Katz, Todd Field
Written by: Robert Festinger, Todd Field; from the story “Killings” by Andre Dubus
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother
Rating: out of 5

IN THE BEDROOM is a fine movie, an engrossing story full of wonderful performances. In fact, this may well be the best movie I’ve ever slapped “Not Recommended” on. It’s just too sad.

Every moment of IN THE BEDROOM rings true, which is the problem. This deeply disturbing story is an extremely effective tear-jerker. Well done, Field & Co., but unfortunately, I don’t want this from a movie. I was definitely the wrong audience for this; furthermore, I’m having a hard time imagining the right audience for this emotional vivisection, which opens on—would you believe it?—Christmas Day. It’s not that I don’t care for movies that deal with your deeper issues. I’m a huge ORDINARY PEOPLE fan, and IN THE BEDROOM definitely plumbs ORDINARY PEOPLE territory.

Ruth (Spacek) and Matt (Wilkinson) Fowler have lived their lives and brought up Frank, their only child, in Camden, Maine. The movie opens with a scene of production-line porn that illustrates the relationship between the community’s financial well-being and the Strout canneries. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the romance between Frank Fowler (Stahl) and Natalie (Tomei), a young mom soon to be divorced from Richard Strout (Mapother; Tom Cruise’s cousin), leads to sudden violence that’s all the more shocking for its mundanity. If you’ve seen a trailer or read anything at all about this movie, you know. I knew, and I spent the first 30 or 40 minutes of this movie sitting in gnawing anxiety and dread, wishing in vain for something to come and spare all these ordinary good people.

What do you do with your grief? How come your hometown looks like it did yesterday when nothing is the same? Is it still home when <I>you’re</I> not the same? Like ORDINARY PEOPLE, this story deals in emotions sublimated and repressed. But ultimately the brave masks fall and the parents in IN THE BEDROOM are stripped bare by their grief, harrowing the viewer not so much with their tears as with the faces they wear as they go through the motions of life.

There are some smart choices in this movie. I was especially thankful that it was mostly unscored, and that, mostly, scoring wasn’t needed. With Spacek and Wilkinson on screen there’s no need for celloes to underscore the moment. They are both simply wonderful as a couple whose contented marriage, apparently based on good-humored habit and love for their son, has more depth of feeling than it initially seems. What music we do get—from the Balkan Girls’ Choir that Ruth directs—is great, dirge-like, Eastern European folksong that complements the mood perfectly. Mapother’s pissed-off husband is just the sort of real-life asshole you can believe, avoiding a performance of outright villainy and delivering instead, evil in all its banality.

Saying IN THE BEDROOM is very, very sad sounds as stupidly inadequate as McCartney’s infamous “It’s a drag, innit?” quote about John Lennon’s murder, but there you have it. If you want to be desperately sad and disturbed for Christmas, that’s your own damn business.

—Roxanne Bogucka

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