Published Aug 01, 2004The Door in the Floor chronicles a fateful summer in the splintering lives of an East Hampton couple still struggling to cope with the tragic deaths of their two sons. Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) is an eccentric children's book author with a penchant for walking around naked and bedding his muses. Still reeling from the car crash that took his two sons, he and his wife Marion (Kim Basinger) have attempted to fill the void by having a daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning) a wrong-headed decision that has left the two on the brink of separation. Enter Eddie (Jon Foster), a young student from Phillips Exeter Academy who is hired to be Ted's assistant and bears an uncanny resemblance to one of their deceased sons. Not soon after his arrival, Eddie takes a masturbatory liking to Marion's bra and panties and gets caught in the act of self-gratification by the object of his desire. Much to his, and our, surprise the yearning is reciprocated.
Narrowing his focus to one section of John Irving's sprawling novel A Widow for One Year, writer/director Tod Williams has brought together a fine cast but getting to the bottom of their deep dysfunction is a creative challenge for which he is ill-suited. Marion's pseudo-incestuous relationship with her paramour is the least of this family's worries. Four-year-old Ruth compulsively stares at, talks to and plays patty cake with the candid black-and-white photos of her departed siblings hanging in the hallway, and dear old dad has the rather unfortunate bad habit of screwing, painting and humiliating women.
Williams, for the most part, seems less interested in revealing the particulars of these relationships than in projecting the sexual manoeuvres in which each are wrapped. Much of this, however, may be due to the source material on which the adaptation is based. Irving's eye, like Ruth atop her chair, has remained fetishistically focused upon the same subjects sex and wrestling, predominantly for the better part of his career and in this work sex and its apparent healing powers is the sole prism through which each character is viewed.
Managing to rise above the mire is Jeff Bridges, who provides subtlety to a character that most times is anything but. Kim Basinger's Marion is a catatonic mess throughout most of the picture, which is a good thing because by film's end we care so little for her that we cannot wait to see her disappear into the sunset. "I've stayed too long," she explains just before abandoning her daughter, and after two hours of watching them I couldn't help but agree. This is a family that only Dr. Phil could love. (Alliance Atlantis)