In the Bedroom - rated - TEPID

Surf and Turf

This is a problematic film. It seems to have all the elements of a great little independent film study of a family with problems, and yet it doesn't quite get across the line. It wants to be something more than it is, but the lobster was sufficient. We didn't need the red meat too.

It opens ominously, announcing itself as 'A Todd Field film.' "Todd who?" I thought. It turns out that Todd was the pianist who led Tom Cruise astray in Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Kubrick). Still, it makes the most of its Maine setting in the early scenes, even if it went a bit symbolic a bit early, with the lobster metaphor. The title, it seems, refers to ferocious (pregnant) lady lobsters who rip the claws of male lobsters if there's more than one in the cage (or "in the bedroom", as the fisher-folk call it).

The symbolism continues as Frank (the family's son, played by Nick Stahl) demonstrates a principal of architecture, using kid's building blocks to build a house in which the parent's & kids' rooms are separated by a common room. Then Frank's parents, Matt and Ruth (played by Tom Wilkinson and Cissy Spacek) go into their bedroom and close the door.
The bedroom stars in a few more scenes: the kids have to stay in the bedroom when their father, Richard (William Mapother, who is Tom Cruise's cousin), is violent.
And Ruth goes into the bedroom to lie down after the funeral - and the bedroom is filled with living flowers.

Tom Wilkinson's performance has been widely praised, but I thought he was wildly overacting in the early scenes. But he comes into his own at the graveside - he simply stares incomprehendingly, and it is heartbreaking. The film is very choppily edited, and it did occur to me that it must have been very hard for the actors to sustain any emotion in a film that is basically a series of short scenes. Cissy Spacek has also been praised for her performance, but it was Nick Stahl and Marisa Tomei (as Nick's older lover) whose performances impressed me. They created a couple of very believable characters - without real showcase scenes

For me, the film became most interesting in the scenes which showed the grieving process and how differently each person coped. There was a truly harrowing scene when each of Tom and Ruth say unforgiveable things to each other - and then forgive each other! Now that's interesting. But then the real action begins, and that's where the film lost me. A ravishinlgy beautiful small film about a family turned into a most unlikely thriller. I got quite impatient with the film then - there were too many impediments to the success of the task, and when the bridge placed one more impediment in the way, I was about to give up.

But before I gave up, "auteur" Todd Field had to put one more bit of symbolism in - there was a band aid on a wound - would it heal? By that stage, I hardly cared.

A case of trying too hard on a first film , I guess.

© Michèle M Asprey 2002

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