Back in July when The Door in the Floor opened in a limited engagement I was intrigued to see what the film was all about. I am a huge fan of Jeff Bridges and was eager check this out. I was supposed to cover its theatrical release and was struck heavily with a bad flu, so I had to regretfully pass. Here we are almost six months later with the DVD release of the film and I finally got a chance to check this film out. Too bad I waited half a year to be disappointed. Four time Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges and Academy Award winner Kim Basinger star in this tale of young love, philandering children’s authors, bad parenting, and depression in the upscale Long Island community of the Hamptons. Based on the first third of the John Irving novel A Widow for One Year, the film does contain some decent performances and good cinematography, but sadly this recipe falls victim to looking good on paper. In truth, The Door in the Floor should have remained shut.
Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), the self proclaimed entertainer of children who likes to draw, and his super depressed wife Marion (Kim Basinger) have spent many years trying to get over the death of their two boys Timothy and Thomas. The two split for the summer, trading off the parental responsibilities for young daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning). High School student Eddie (Jon Foster), who has taken a summer job as Ted’s assistant, must follow his mentor around on every little tedious misadventure and jump through every hoop the “literary Dude” makes him go through. One such hoop includes sparking a relationship with Mrs. Cole. The deception and scheming leads the three main characters to a crossroads that will ultimately impact the rest of their lives.
Writer/Director Tod Williams (The Adventures of Sebastian Cole) chose to adapt the Irving novel by just making the first third of it. It is apparent in the film that there is so much more left to be told. Long movies do not bother me in the least as long as the payoff in the end is well worth it. Now I sincerely doubt that over the course of the next couple years that Williams will attempt to follow up this film with the rest of the story, but it would indeed make this “chapter” well worth it. Endings that make one think or confuse the hell out of people are understandable and can be quite cool, but in order for the coolness to take effect there has to be a reasonable build up to it. In The Door in the Floor the build up is slow and way too melodramatic. It feels like it is the first act of a three act play, but rather than having a well thought out dramatic franchise this is nothing more than a two hour commercial for the book. Now I’m all for reading, but not when it comes to movies where, if I want to know what happens next, I sit and wait eagerly for the sequel.
This year there has been a bunch of three character indies where the one unknown gets a chance to truly shine: Dallas Roberts in A Home at the End of the World, Gabriel Macht in A Love Song for Bobby Long, and now Jon Foster in this movie. Being “the other guy” has proven to be the most interesting and entertaining person to watch in all of these films. Foster, who's most recognizable as the guy who Arnie told to “Talk to da hand” in Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, takes the opportunity to play the unknown third wheel in this story and does a very good job at keeping up with the two veterans. Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, and the unknown Foster all do good jobs and make the flick watchable. The real star of the movie though is Elle - younger sister of Dakota - Fanning. Whether it’s commenting on Daddy’s weird penis or walking in on Mommy and Eddie doing it “doggystyle”, she steals every scene with her utter cuteness. Bridges basically shows us what it would be like if “The Dude” wrote children’s books. Instead of white Russians and bathrobes it’s squid ink ice cubes and Gepetto pajamas. Basinger, who appeared earlier this year in the surprisingly good Cellular, still can appear ravishing spackled under loads of make up, but her role is so layered and full of subtext that, without the other two-thirds of the story, she just seems mopey and horny.
Perhaps if this was an HBO mini-series or a virgining indie franchise with the rest of the story left to be told, then maybe this would be a fine piece of cinema. But standing on its own, as it no doubt will forever, it’s nothing more than wasted potential from some fine craftsman. And there is nothing I hate more than wasted potential. This edition in Focus Features' “Spotlight Series” is nothing too special. The features on here are pretty standard. The featurettes do nothing more than pimp the rest of the book while the group commentary is as average as it gets.
“The Making of The Door in the Floor” shows various interviews with cast and crew on location and in studio months afterwards discussing what it took to put this film together. Author John Irving chimes in about how he liked the idea of not condensing the book into a mediocre thriller, but rather using just the beginning story.
“Anatomy of a Scene” is a special from the Sundance channel focusing around the film’s slapstick action sequence and how it was important to “keep the humor” throughout “such a serious movie”. Various shots of how the scene was shot, mixed with the final version of what made it into the film fill out this feature all with comments from cast and crew basically reiterating what was already said in the “Making of...” featurette.
“Author John Irving: From Novel To Screen” is just a more in-depth feature, discussing the adaptation of the novel A Widow for One Year. Irving discusses his likes and dislikes of Hollywood adaptations with Tod Williams chiming in, and the two go into why they chose to go this route with this particular adaptation.
The group commentary with Tod Williams, composer Marcelo Zorves, cinematographer Terry Stacey, editor Affonso Goncalves, and costume designer Eric Daman consists of the little crew sitting around sipping champagne conversing with one another as to how much they love the film, specific shots, and any other particular moment they want to mention. Also, in true DVD commentary fashion, the group tends to kiss a lot of ass. They go on about Kim Basinger’s beauty and Jeff Bridges' genius. Nothing special or remarkable is being said here, mostly just the same old blah blah blah from the features.
With no deleted scenes and so much gratuitous plugging of the book, the DVD’s features are equally as mediocre as the movie itself. It’s apparent in these features that this story will continue to remain open-ended unless you buy the book. So is it worth watching? Maybe if you’re bored and it coincidentally shows up on Cinemax, but other than that you are better off just skipping it all together. There is nothing worse than a depressing movie that depresses you.
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