In the Bedroom


When this movie ended, one of my first thoughts was ‘That’s it? This is the film that’s been gathering endless praise and awards? Huh.’ Well, it is good, just not that good. I’ll admit that the cast is great, the film shows promise early on as the relationships are established, and the tragedy at its centre is undeniably affecting, but then it meanders and nearly drowns in its own self-importance.

The film is set in present day Maine, in a small fishing town which is home to the Fowlers, a middle-aged couple whose only son is set to leave for college. Frank (Nick Stahl) doesn’t seem in a hurry, though, as he’s spending his summer days settling into working the lobster traps and enjoying a fling with his Natalie (Marisa Tomei), an older woman with two kids. Frank’s mother (Sissy Spacek), a music teacher, doesn’t look to fondly at this romance, as she still sees him as a kid himself and doesn’t like him fooling around with a woman whose divorce isn’t even finalised yet. His dad, Dr. Fowler (Tom Wilkinson), is a bit more comprehensive, he just wants his boy to be happy. But even he can see that the situation is a bit touchy, what with Nat’s ex (William Mapother) lurking about…

The film was written and directed by Todd Field, making his feature debut after working as an actor in everything from French Canadian TV miniseries “Lance et Compte” to Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”. Like the late filmmaker, Field is aiming for Serious Adult Drama, with the less cheap thrills possible. It’s an admirable ambition, at least at first. Field slowly but surely sets things up, immersing us into the everyday life of this New England village, with its barbecues and little league baseball games. The actors quickly make us believe in their characters. Stahl, one of the better teen actors, is convincing and involving as Frank. We can feel how he’s torn between his dreams of becoming an architect and the comfort of life as a menial worker. He has good chemistry with Tomei, and it’s nice how her boys get attached to him. Spacek and Wilkinson seem to have a deep complicity between them, exactly like an old married couple, and we understand their worries for their son. As for Mapother… Well, he looks the part, utterly sleazy and brutish (can you believe he’s Tom Cruise’s cousin?), but the movie actually has the good sense not to make him into a completely one-dimensional bad guy.

So far, so good, and it gets better. Now, it’s hard to discuss what follows without revealing the rather shocking twists of the story, so I suggest you stop reading if you don’t want to have them spoiled. Again : *****************SPOILER WARNING!************************* As you might actually have guessed, Natalie’s ex really can’t accept her not only kicking him out but schtupping a freakin’ teenager, and he ends up shooting him in the head. It sounds harsh, but it’s presented in a nicely understated way, as are the reactions of the parents to the news of Frank’s demise. The film’s depiction of grief might be the most powerful thing about it. Probably because Field communicated so well who these people were and how much they cared for each other, we feel their pain. Tom Wilkinson deserves the awards he’s been getting just for scenes like when he goes through his son’s cruelly empty bedroom. ********END OF SPOILER*********

Unfortunately, the film goes too far with the whole “understated” thing. For nearly an hour, nothing happens, it’s just the Fowlers trying to keep going, even though it’s painful. So we get scene after scene of pointless small talk (do you know how the Fast Pass works at Disney World? Well, it’s explained at length in the film, for chrissakes!), of Spacek sulking in front of the TV, or Wilkinson mowing the lawn, routine in all its dull glory, basically. Life goes on, right? Well not really, they’re just going through the motions, I know, because they have long faces the whole while. We get it, Todd, you don’t have to keep hitting that point for a whole darn hour! They’re growing bitter and angry, and they can’t even talk to each other, understood!

Eventually, something more does happen in the film, but it’s not necessarily better, as we get a couple of scenes of big hysterics that don’t ring true. At least it shakes the characters out of their passivity in time for the third act, which wins our interest back somehow, with Dr. Fowler deciding to do something about him and his wife’s need for closure. I liked the ambiguity of this, sustained by a “matter of fact” tone that’s like Field saying, this is happening but I’m not passing judgement, make your own. This is almost enough to redeem the film, but not quite. As it stands, “In the Bedroom” is still a pretty good little film, most notable for its strong performances, but for me to call it great as many have, it would have to lose almost an hour.