With so many successful films adapted from John Irving novels — from The World According to Garp to The Cider House Rules — it must have seemed like a sure bet to make The Door in the Floor, a film based on the long first chapter of Irving’s ninth novel, A Widow for One Year.
In the film, teenager Eddie O’Hare (Jon Foster) arrives by ferry at a remote and affluent New York island. He has come for a summer job as writer’s assistant for Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), a famous children’s book author.
Eddie soon finds that Cole’s marriage is disintegrating as he becomes the indefatigable boy-toy of Cole’s wife Marion (Kim Basinger). They have sex 60 times that summer. We get to see a bit of that.
Naked frolicking aside, the Coles are haunted by the deaths of their two sons in a car accident that left the parents unhurt. Photographs of the boys fill the hall of their home. Marion is still numb with grief. Ted lets it all hang out — sometimes literally, as when he chooses to walk around buck naked.
Cole is a burr-faced and drunken skirt-chaser with an aww-shucks facade. “I’m just an entertainer of children,” he says, “and I like to draw.” Despite his own infidelities, he harbors thinly masked macho hostility toward his wife’s full-lipped young lover.
Mrs. Cole is no Mrs. Robinson. Strangely catatonic, Basinger’s Marion sleepwalks through the film, often in a stupor, with moments of meek clarity. We get more excitement from one scene with Mimi Rogers as Mrs. Vaughan, a deliciously active character in a sadly limited role.
Though Irving’s books have been described as “filmable as written,” A Widow for One Year describes the characters and their intentions with flashes back to the past and forward into the future, posing a formidable challenge for even a seasoned screenwriter. The film’s young director, Tod Williams, cribs Irving’s dialogue and plot yet hasn’t the faintest idea how to effectively telegraph the story.
The film trades in inevitabilities — whether it’s when the marriage will explode, when the kid’s going to hump Mrs. Cole, or when the author’s sexual escapades will blow up in his face. Irritatingly, we see what these people want but not why they want it, as the audience waits for an hour and a half to hear the histories of the main characters.
Another problem is the music, a swelling musical score that suggests something deeply poignant is occurring. Throughout the film, the haunting sound track works as a kind of stand-in for the actual drama.
In the right hands, this story of a family on the rocks could be told as vividly as in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm. But The Door in the Floor plods along stolidly to soaring music. The sex scenes are shot with all the sultriness and passion of a stag film. Even the Long Island landscapes at dusk carry a disappointing flatness.
Sure, there are fun moments, such as when the 4-year-old comments on her father’s hard-on, or when Mrs. Vaughan tries to run down Cole with her car.
Certainly die-hard Irving fans will want to have a look, as will those dying to see Basinger and Rogers nude.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph Road). Call 248-263-2111.
Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.