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Bams' review of
In The Bedroom


In The Bedroom (2001)
Rated R; running time 130 minutes
Studios: Miramax
Genre: Drama
Seen at: Celebration Cinema (Lansing, Michigan)
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Robert Festinger, Todd Field (based on the story "Killings" by Andre Dubus)
Directed by: Todd Field
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother, William Wise, Celia Weston

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002

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Last year, I reviewed You Can Count On Me, a film heavily touted by Sundance Film Festival goers as The Film To See. Back then, I wondered what those goers were smokin' that made them tout so. I nearly said the same thing about In The Bedroom too - until Tom Wilkinson convinced me otherwise.

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
In a sleepy little coastal New England town, life goes by at a relaxed pace for high school choral teacher Ruth Fowler (Sissy Spacek) and her husband, Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson). In the type of town where Everybody Knows Your Name, Ruth and Matt share an easy camaraderie with their middle-aged friends Katie (Celia Weston) and Willis Grinnel (William Wise), and a loving, if somewhat less easy relationship with their only son, Frank (Nick Stahl).

Frank is a college student and budding home designer with a lot of potential. But to Ruth's dismay, Frank is also involved with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), a somewhat older woman with two kids of her own. Despite Matt's assurances to the contrary, Ruth is convinced that her boy will be corrupted by his relationship with Natalie, to the point where he'll stop pursuing his education and career. But that's nothing, compared to the firestorm ahead for each of them - by way of Natalie's angry, not quite ex-husband, Richard Strout (William Mapother).

In The Bedroom is almost three stories in one. The first revolves around Frank and Natalie, with Ruth tsk tsking their "older" woman/younger man relationship under her breath on the sidelines, while Richard looms in the background as an unrealized threat. The second story is that threat, realized. The third story is all Ruth and Matt, and how they and their friends deal with their grief. On the surface, they live their lives in the same quiet small-town Maine way they had from the start, but the quietude of Ruth & Matt is disturbed by a storm of fury, which leads them down an unexpected road. For me, this part of the story was the payoff I had hoped for; in a way, their discussion about how men and women experience grief differently, reminded me of one of the underlying themes in What Dreams May Come. Having almost given up on In The Bedroom ever actually going somewhere, the true-to-life anguish between Ruth and Matt, brought everything squarely into focus for me.

In a movie overpopulated with multiple shots and mini-scenes where "nothing" takes place, director Todd Field takes his sweet time telling In The Bedroom. This, at first, left me feeling that he was boring me to tears. I spent a lot of time watching quiet non-scenes wondering what the hell the raving Sundance viewers saw in this film (other than it being A Work Of Art). But the last act really took me there. Wilkinson's tour-de-force throughout made the trip worth the overwhelming feeling you're peeking in on a series of personal lives which you don't quite comprehend - or rather, watching a stylized telling of situations you might comprehend better, if told in a more straightforward way. But "reflective" is the best adjective I can come up with for In The Bedroom; and on reflection, the guts of this film counted for more than I gave it credit for, immediately after leaving the theater.

The films' pacing often had me wondering WTF?, but its performances are top-notch, especially by the older set. Wilkinson tears it up as a 54-year-old man who is still as connected to his adult son as he is his wife - at first. His was most def the performance to see. I wish more older male characters were allowed to be portrayed as Matt was; I don't remember the last time I've seen another mid-life character nearly as well-rounded as this one. Spacek is almost as strong, conveying a powerful message in her silent fury; and as Matt's true-blue friend Willis, William Wise portrays East Coast folksiness without the stereotype so common in movies about folksy East Coasters.

This is not to say that the youngsters were slouches; not in the least. Fowler didn't quite have enough time to fully form his college son/young lover role to my liking; but as Richard, William Mapother took what might have come across as Yet Another - the abusive ex-husband - and breathed new life into that role. And though Tomei - who got a lot of grief over winning an Oscar for her non-serious role in My Cousin Vinnie - doesn't get a lot of screen time, she worked the time she had to great affect. She and Spacek share a powerful scene late in the movie that made me realize that the Sundance crowd was right, indeed.

This film won't suit everyone's tastes; in fact, I liked The Shipping News - my second on-the-water film of this weekend - much better, story-wise. But if you're in the market for serious adult drama, Art-Film style, you could do a lot worse than In The Bedroom.


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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002
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More 3BlackChicks...™ review(s) for this week:
(entertainment reviewed week of 1/18/02):
Bams' reviews:
In The Bedroom | The Shipping News

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