12 January 2007

In the Bedroom

Dude, she’s got two kids! But that doesn’t faze Frank (Nick Stahl), college-aged heartthrob who’s happily dating Natalie (Marisa Tomei), a real looker who must be at least ten years his senior. Problem is not only does she have two kids, but she’s got a jealous estranged husband too; fans of Lost will realize right away that he’s no good since he’s played by William Mapother who, between this movie and that show, must get eggs thrown at him on the street, the poor guy.

Needless to say, something terrible happens. A conventional movie would have stopped right around there, but Field and Festinger aren’t really interested in Frank and Natalie so much as they’re interested in Matt and Ruth, Frank’s parents, played respectively by Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek.

The first time I saw it, around the time of its initial release, I felt that I didn’t really "get it" because I was too young. After all, this is a movie about old people being old and doing old things, so I recommended it to my parents, thinking they’d be able to relate to it. After seeing it, they were disturbed and even a little offended that I’d asked them to watch it.

Watching it again now, years later, I can relate...to my parents’ reaction that is. In the Bedroom is relentlessly grim, and its pacing languid. Field, in his directorial debut, seems to be ignorant of the fact that sometimes you need to cut some of what you shot. He must have the cleanest cutting room floor in the business.

At 130 minutes, Field is in no rush to tell his story or get his point across. Sometimes he's clever about it: during an important scene between Matt and Natalie at the convenience store where she is a cashier, Field refuses to allow the scene to just play-out, constantly interrupting the drama with obnoxious customers.

This is one of the film’s central themes, contrasting the extraordinary with the mundane. When Matt and Ruth have an argument, the first action in the film in nearly an hour, it’s interrupted by a knock at the door. “That must be the police,” Matt jokes, but it’s just a girl selling candy to finance her team’s trip to the Nationals. Matt and Ruth are having a really terrible time, but to everyone else in the world it’s just business as usual. This causes them to ask, "Why us?", and to parcel out the blame to one another.

For most of the film, Field and Festinger really hold back, letting the characters’ repressed emotions mount and mount until you don’t really care anymore. The patient and deliberate pacing allows the actors to do their thing and really develop their characters, but it gets to be a bit frustrating to watch. The blame is in the torpid second act that just moves too darn slow. You wouldn’t want to spend two hours with these poor people in real life, and certainly not in reel life either. In fairness, though, the last act really comes together; it’s suspenseful and intense, but just like a trip to Maine, where the film is set, it takes a long time to get there.

Mr. Field calls Maine “The Great State of Maine” (in the credits), and he also calls it home. As such he’s got a real hold on the fine details, from the way the houses are decorated to the Blake-quoting poker buddy to the priest who confesses to getting his hair cut at Supercuts. The film is cheaper than a trip to New England and just as boring.

I’m just kidding -- I really love New England. Anyway, there are some real moments of beauty and fine filmmaking scattered throughout, but for the most part the film is too static and by the books. The camera rarely moves and the actors never really do anything except sit still. The editing is a lot of shot, countershot, etc.; though sometimes visually interesting it isn’t exactly cinematically thrilling. I’ve always had a soft spot for Mr. Field ever since I saw him play “that prick piano player” in Eyes Wide Shut, but he just really doesn’t do it for me here. Do yourselves a favor, readership, and cut straight to his triumphant sophomore effort, Little Children.

1 comment:

random said...

This is one of the underrated movies that really needs more people to pay attention to it. I absolutely loved this movie.

Yes, it's grim. But it's real.

I see you got that point that this was a movie about the parents and not young Frank.

Wilkinson and Spacek are amazing.

I was unabashedly surprised by the ending. It's such a slow build but completely worth it.

After viewing the movie, I went out and bought the collection of short stories that contained the story that this movie was based on by Dubus.

A stunning and fantastic movie.