It’s always refreshing when a director gives a film room to breathe. When this rare occurrence happens, characters are allowed to evolve and hit multiple notes, scenes become textured, layered and well-wrought, motives become two-headed and meanings can develop in the viewer’s mind where even if the locations and events themselves are foreign, the otherwise trivial events become metaphors and gain significance. The Door in the Floor is just such a film, and Tod Williams is just such a director. This movie came and went from the theaters with such quickness that I, as an amateur–but insanely talented–film reviewer was not able to sing it’s praises while it was on the big screen. The good news is that it is now out on DVD and you can see it on the small one. I highly recommend you get off your well-fed asses and watch it. And soon.
The Door in the Floor concerns the lives of a middle aged philandering writer of children’s books named Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), his long-suffering wife Marion (Kim Basinger), their maladjusted daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning), a high school helper-monkey/interloper Eddie (John Foster) and the detritus of a once vibrant marriage. The film opens with Ted explaining to Marion that they ought to separate for the summer; he’ll rent an apartment in town (they live in a remote part of the island hamlet East Hampton) and they can take turns staying at the house with Ruth. Eddie is brought in for the summer because like the couple’s two dead sons, he is a student at the prestigious Exeter Academy and an aspiring writer. Ted and Marion’s two sons were killed years earlier in a car accident and their marriage has been sliding down hill ever since. Ruth was supposed to somehow act as a Band-Aid for the couple, but the damage had long ago been done.
Almost immediately, Marion begins having a love affair with the much younger Eddie. It is in fact his first time with a woman and before they actually do the deed, we are treated to several hilarious scenes of him attempting to masturbate over her photo and her undies. Eventually she places his hand up her skirt and within literal seconds he creams himself. Soon however, Eddie is able to get the hang of being around naked Basinger and the two of them fuck like bunnies for the ensuing month. I must mention that Ruth, Marion’s four-year-old daughter is taken to waking up in the middle of the night because of “sounds” she hears and this leads up to one of the most humiliating scenes I have witnessed (from Eddie’s perspective) where he is doing Mommy from behind in the “doggish” manner and poor young Ruth walks in and begins screaming. Eddie hides himself with a lampshade. Word of this of course gets back to Ted, who tells Eddie he’s not mad at him, but he might call on the young man to testify in a court of law about who the more competent parent is should a custody battle crop up. Eddie, of course, is mortified.
For his part, Ted dresses and behaves much like Gustav Klimpt. He spends most of the movie nude or in a flowing nightgown and bangs most of the town’s women. His trick is to get them to pose for his books (remember, children’s books), eventually gets them to pose nude, and then begins to degrade them both literally and figuratively on the canvas before jettisoning them for fresher meat. His preference is for mother-daughter teams. What this means for the viewer is that we get treated to a whole lot of naked Mimi Rodgers (as not-so-stable Mrs. Vaughn). Actually, aside from being a great movie, The Door in the Floor is milf-city. Moving along; we initially think Ted hired young Eddie for the summer because he was either in need of a writer’s assistant and/or doing a favor for Eddie’s father who teaches at Exeter. The truth of the matter, as we find out, is much murkier and I’m not going to spoil it for you (I know, I know). However, almost immediately we see that Ted has about as much interest in Eddie and the boy’s aspirations as he does in his wife and their marriage. Eddie is assigned the most trivial tasks (getting squid ink for Ted’s paintings or changing semicolons into commas and then back again). He also becomes Ted’s chauffer, driving the older writer to his trysts around the island. Eddie and Ted become rivals of sorts, not just over Marion, but over young Ruth’s affections as well.
Like Robert Altman and now Alexander Payne, Williams presents us with the utter horror of life yet tempers it with and equally brutal sense of wicked humor. Yeah, death, marriage, aging, children, work, etc.–none of it makes any sense and all of it is near impossible to deal with and comprehend on any level that actually accomplishes anything meaningful or lasting. At best, we are allowed to laugh at the madness. The Door in the Floor provides us with just such an opportunity. Like all smart films, the characters in this one are fully developed, difficult, deceptive, greedy and flawed. In other words, they are just like you and just like me. And as I mentioned in the beginning, the awkwardness and humanity of these characters and their situation is never rushed or forced. As happens every once in a while, breathing room is allowed, and I am thankful for it. This is a movie that is not afraid of itslef or what it has to say. Besides, how bad can a film be that opens with a father telling his young daughter that his penis looks weird because “My penis is weird?” Exactly.