The Door in the Floor is a movie for all those who complain that book-to-film adaptations leave out the important stuff: Instead of filming the entirety of John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year and having to compress the story into 90 minutes, writer-director Tod Williams turned only the first third into The Door in the Floor, a melancholy and uneven portrait of one family's grief.
The main character in Irving's novel is Ruth, but in Williams' film she's only 4 years old and played by Dakota Fanning's little sister Elle, doing a better approximation of an actual child than her sibling's typically creepy performances. Williams' main focus is Ruth's parents, eccentric children's book author and illustrator Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and his distant, emotionally traumatized wife Marion (Kim Basinger). Still reeling from the tragic deaths of their two sons in a car accident, Ted and Marion are tentatively separated, when into their emotionally fragile world comes teenager Eddie (Jon Foster), an aspiring writer whom Ted takes on as his ostensible assistant.
There isn't a whole lot of assisting needed for a man whose books run shorter than the length of this review, so Eddie spends his free time helping and lusting over Marion, who is surprisingly receptive to his adolescent urges, and soon the two are boning away whenever they get the chance. Marion doesn't say much, so we're left to ponder whether she's screwing the help to sublimate her grief or to get back at Ted, who also will nail anything that moves.
Williams stages the story with the same sort of forced poignancy that bogged down the last Irving screen adaptation, The Cider House Rules. Nearly every movement and line is filled with such portent that the film becomes oppressive in its effort to make you feel sad. Williams also inserts a few wildly inappropriate comedic moments which, rather than lightening the tone, merely serve to take the viewer out of the story.
Luckily Williams has recruited a talented cast, and they do their best to embody characters who are difficult to like. Bridges is best as the seemingly laid-back Ted, whose hippie persona is only a cover for a petty, vindictive streak. Basinger spends most of her time, even during sex scenes, looking slightly comatose, but she manages to convey Marion's pain with a few choice expressions. Well-composed as it is, The Door in the Floor is far too precious to evoke much more than a distanced, aesthetic appreciation.