Jeff Bridges is at his swaggering best in a film about a couple wrecked by loss.

A Gift to Grief 

Jeff Bridges is at his swaggering best in a film about a couple wrecked by loss.

The opening moments of The Door in the Floor are not promising. A little girl stands on a chair in a hallway of photos, pointing at the images and speaking about them. Nearly every photograph shows two boys, brothers, as blond as the girl. "Dead means they're broken?" she asks her father. The scene is both self-consciously explanatory and overly freighted.

Before long, however, things get considerably better. The girl's father is Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), a writer who reveals himself to be raucous, profligate and debauched. Her grief-stricken mother, played by Kim Basinger, has largely turned to stone. And then a high school student arrives to serve as Cole's assistant for the summer. His name is Eddie (Jon Foster), and he has long been a devoted fan of his employer; within moments of seeing his employer's wife, Eddie is smitten with her, too. Now we're cooking.

The Door in the Floor, adapted by writer and director Tod Williams from the first part of John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year, is not unfamiliar. It has the icy chill of Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, the atmospheric grief of Todd Field's In the Bedroom and the quirky-WASP abandon of Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys. It also basks in its share of Irving eccentricity with Cole, a character whose outsized personality nearly balances the utter vacancy that characterizes his wife. Cole is the kind of man whose grief manifests itself in alcoholism, sex and spooky drawings of naked women; Marion Cole, on the other hand, has been sucked into the void. When asked about "the accident" (the unexplained event that killed her two sons), she disappears behind her eyes like a corpse.

Except when she's with Eddie. The boy stirs something in her -- but not because she desires him. Instead, she feels compassion for his desire; she wants to give him what she isn't sure her teenage sons received before they died. For her, Eddie is a surrogate son and, later, a husband -- it's no accident that "Ted" and "Eddie" are essentially the same name, both nicknames for Edward. For Marion, this feast of the flesh is an extended good-bye to all of the men in her life, a gift to herself and her grief.

Marion Cole is not an easy role. Basinger takes a stab at it, and she does all right after bombing her opening scene. But the part should have gone to someone with a little more gravitas.

On the other hand, Jeff Bridges is fabulous. His swaggering Ted is both charming and despicable; just when we think him worthy of nothing but condemnation, Bridges shows us something redeeming and real. Jon Foster's Eddie is also a marvel, especially across from Basinger's Marion, who is lifeless by design.

Writer-director Williams has done an excellent job in both of his roles. Save for a couple of false notes, the script is dead-on, offering clever parallels (especially with writing and texts) and several delicious payoffs. It's immensely satisfying to reach the end of a movie and witness the blossoming of everything that was planted earlier, whether we'd remembered it or not.

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