IN THE BEDROOM
directed by Todd Field with Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei, and Nick Stahl opens Dec. 25 at Uptown
A POSTCARD VIEW begins and ends In the Bedroom, although our perspective on the coastal Maine prettiness is wrenchingly undone between the two vistas. Working from a 1991 short story by the late Andre Dubus, actor-turned- director Todd Field coolly delves beneath the picturesque fa硤e of both landscape and family. What happens to disrupt one serene summer is being treated as a secret by the film's producers, so we'll skip some key plot points below.
Of the Fowler family, we first meet college-age Frank (Bully's Nick Stahl), who romps through an Andrew Wyeth field with his older summer lover Natalie (Marisa Tomei). There's a class divide to their fling; he's the only child of a doctor and a music teacher, while blue-collar Natalie, the mother of two small kids, is separated from an abusive husband who belongs to the powerful family that runs the town's fish-packing plant. Frank's mother, Ruth (Sissy Spacek), an outsider in clannish Camden, warns her son firmly, "This is stopping now," but love is love and youth is youth. What can a mother do? Before long, Frank further alarms his professionally minded parents by considering staying with Natalie, forgoing architecture school, and working instead as a lobster fisherman—a family tradition his dad still practices.
The parent-child conflicts here are pretty clear; but then again, they aren't. What affects one generation directly has hidden repercussions for the other. Thus, Bedroom abruptly shifts in focus from young love to middle-aged marital meltdown, which has its titular analogy in the trap ("bedroom") of a lobster pot, where two confined crustaceans will battle to the death rather than share the space. We wait nervously for the Fowlers to similarly self-destruct. One crisis reveals another.
Ordinary married 50-somethings, Ruth and her husband Matt (The Full Monty's Tom Wilkinson) make unlikely characters for compelling screen drama these days, which says something about the sad state of this year's movies. Bedroom is a standout against a weak field of other 2001 films, though Maine resident Field does go overboard with the local color. (Urban viewers may fidget in their seats during the softball games and rustic outings.) It's not a film that immediately seizes your attention, but it gradually builds, then rivets, your interest. Only afterward do you appreciate all that Field has left out of his picture. Material that might've been treated for melodrama is distilled to its finest essence—like the actors themselves, who don't betray a false note among them.