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The Door in the Floor / A Home at the End of the World
For my money, Jeff Bridges is one of the most under-rated and poorly-utilized actors of his generation. Whether he's portraying a businessman (Seabiscuit) or a stoner (The Big Lebowski), a president (The Contender) or an outlaw (Wild Bill), he brings an intensity and presence to every role he plays. In The Door in the Floor, we first see his character walking naked down a hallway with his daughter in his arms. He's a writer, an amateur painter, a father, and a husband. But his marriage is falling apart, as his wife continues to grieve over the deaths of their sons many years before. Ted Cole (Bridges) has taken comfort in drink and the arms of the various middle-aged models who pose nude for him. He still loves his wife, though, and in an act of kindness hires an assistant for the summer--a high school senior named Eddie (Jon Foster) who bears a striking resemblance to one of their lost sons. The boy thinks he's helping Ted write a new children's book, but he's really a companion for Marion (Kim Basinger).
It's not long before Eddie's taken a fancy to Marion, which results in some highly embarrassing moments and then some rather energetic lovemaking. The rest of the film chronicles their affair as well as Ted's reaction. Unfortunately for the movie, Jon Foster is no match for Bridges, who completely overwhelms the young actor. That's probably as it should be, but it makes us feel sorry for the lad's character, which I don't think was the director's point.
Tod Williams, making his second film, certainly has a nice way with the Long Island scenery. There are some lovely shots on the beach, and the way the Cole house functions as another character feels wonderfully natural. Unfortunately, the story's naturalism breaks down at too many points. Williams also wrote the script, and he fills it with so many obvious metaphors that the movie creaks under their weight. The film's title is also a title of Ted's most famous children's book, though it's hard to imagine any parent reading it to their child. Instead, it's an overwrought reference to the things we try to hide away. Then at the end of the film, one of the characters literally walks through the door in the floor, another example of making explicit what we already knew.
But Bobby, who's now 15, is not one to let trouble get him down. He moves in with his best friend Jonathan, and the two strike up an intense brotherly relationship . Bobby soon introduces Jonathan's mother Alice (played by Sissy Spacek) to the joys of marijuana and slow dancing. But in the spirit of Bobby, the movie takes a generous attitude to these unusual events. But even Alice doesn't know what to do when she catches Bobby and Jonathan acting more like lovers than brothers.
Skip ahead nine years. Jonathan (played as an adult by Dallas Roberts) has moved to New York City, while Bobby has stayed behind in Cleveland with Alice and her husband, leading what appears to be an enjoyable if uninteresting existence. But when the "parents" move to Arizona, Bobby has nowhere to go but to New York to live with Jonathan. There, Jonathan, who's come out as a gay man, stays with Clare (Robin Wright Penn), a straight woman who lives off an inheritance and her sideline of making funky hats. It's clear from the opening scene that Jonathan still pines for Bobby, while Clare pines for Jonathan. Bobby meanwhile seems surprisingly asexual though full of love for everyone.
The marketing tagline for the movie is "Family Can Be Whatever You Want It to Be," and that pretty much tells you what you need to know. Though the movie is set in 1982, its message is contemporary and unfortunately vapid. The movie is so generous to its characters it can't imagine any conflict with this threesome, even when they head out to Woodstock (yes, Woodstock) and open a trendy restaurant. True, the scourge of AIDS looms, and motherhood isn't everything Clare hopes for. But the idealized Bobby floats through in beautiful lighting.
Fortunately, the acting is great. It's a little distracting to see Colin Farrell in this naive role, but he makes it work. Even better though are Penn and Roberts. Penn continues to get better with age, as she shrugs off her good looks and digs into the meat of the role. Roberts is completely convincing as a gay man in the '80s without ever going overboard on the mannerisms. Director Michael Meyer has a nice way with his characters, and their relationships feel authentic. The movie's soundtrack is omnipresent, but at least the music is good. No "YMCA" for this film. It's odd that the story (written by Michael Cunningham) seems autobiographical, with numerous details that ring true, and yet the main character is so obviously a fantasy of some kind.
J. Robert Parks 7/17/2004