“The Door in the Floor,” adapted from approximately the first third of John Irving's novel, “A Widow for One Year” and opening Feb. 10 at the Smith Opera House, is an intelligent, poignant and tightly wound inspection of a marriage crumbling in the wake of a terrible loss. Despite that dour plot capsule, the movie remains true to the Irving style by mixing bizarre comedy with tragedy.
Director-screenwriter Tod Williams sensitively eavesdrops on the characters, while drawing a gallery of superb performances from his well-chosen cast.
When we first meet Ted and Marion Cole, played by Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, they are recovering from the deaths of their two teenage sons in a car accident several years earlier. Their 4-year-old daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning), was born after the car accident that killed her brothers, but rather than help her parents move beyond their grief she traps them inside it, and herself as well. A hallway in the Coles' rambling, shingled house in the Hamptons is lined with pictures of the boys, each one representing a story that Ted tells his daughter again and again.
Into this potentially explosive situation strides 16-year-old Eddie O'Hare (Jon Foster), hired as Ted's summer assistant but destined to be a sexual pawn in Ted and Marion's mind games. With Ted's ostensible acquiescence, Marion and Eddie begin an affair, while Ted continues to philander with various Hampton women.
Mr. Bridges gives a fearless performance as Ted. A failed novelist but a successful illustrator and author of children's books, Ted has an artiste's sense of entitlement. He's a man of many dimensions, and Bridges captures each one. His self-absorption is balanced, at least temporarily, by an all-too-confident charm, and Mr. Bridges locates the anguish beneath the armor of self-satisfaction.
In contrast to the Bridges bravado, Ms. Basinger's screen presence always displays an element of reserve, which enhances Marion's near catatonic state of grief. Even in the throes of re-awakened passion, her shopworn sensuality never loses its moroseness, just as Marion will never shake her sense of loss.
Mr. Foster also turns Eddie into a complete and sympathetic figure, vulnerable and confused but also burdened with a simplistic conviction of right and wrong. Ms. Fanning captures the desperation behind Ruth's occasionally calculated winsomeness. Mimi Rogers gives a strong, risk-taking performance as a Hampton woman who models for Ted's nude drawings, broadly registering the character's venomous anger without resorting to caricature.
Mr. Williams, whose previous film was “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,” resists the imperatives to streamline and shoehorn that afflict even the most sensitive screenwriters. (His producers also deserve credit for not imposing a more conventional structure on his film.) He takes his time with the story, meandering from one scene to the next and finding a halting, languorous rhythm that suits both the setting and the dominant mood of the characters.
The Smith screens “The Door in the Floor'' at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11, at 2 p.m. Feb. 13 and at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15. Rated R for strong sexuality, graphic images and language, this film has a running time of one hours, 51 minutes. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursday and $2 on Tuesday. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to reserve tickets.
The Sunday Movie Roundtable meets following the matinee screening on Feb. 13. The Smith invites patrons to stay after and participate in insightful discussion about the film lead by The Smith's Arts-in-Education Director RJ Rapoza. The discussion takes place in The Smith's lower-level cabaret.
Extraordinary in every way, from the pitch-perfect performances to the delicate handling of explosive subject matter, “The Door in the Floor” is a thoughtful, melancholy story of love, loss, pain, betrayal and the lingering after-effects of tragedy.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.