A review of the film “In the Bedroom,” (based on the novel by Andre Dubus)

Reviewed by Jen Johnston

ATTENTION: Manufactures of the Toyota Matrix. I have a piece of amazing information for you. When we, the public go to the movies, most of the time we are doing it to get our entertainment without the bombardment of your advertisements we have to watch on TV. Paying $6.50 for the privilege of having to sit through precisely what I am attempting to avoid does not make me want to purchase your car. It makes me want to proceed briskly to the nearest dealership and beat the nearest salesman with a blunt object. (Such as a Land Rover) Thank you.

In the spirit of being annoyed by product placement let’s chat about “In the Bedroom” this year’s dark horse nominee for Best Picture. It’s brought to you by Miramax. If the rest of the movie is any indication it’s also brought to you by Subaru, Disney world, KFC, Band-Aids, Foldgers Instant Coffee, Saab, Coca Cola, Hershey’s Chocolate, and Dairy Queen. I’m half hoping that Miramax studios are starting to run out of money as that is the only reasonable explanation for the barrage of consumer imagery marring this tight little drama.

“In the Bedroom, ” based on the novel from Andre Dubus, is a study of a family in Maine, who suffers a horrendous tragedy and the aftermath of it. To say much more would give away too much of the plot. Suffice to say, it’s chock full of everything you’ve come to expect from Miramax, sublime acting, above average writing, and an excellent director at the helm. I just don’t understand what it’s doing on this year’s list of nominees, as it covers no new ground.

This story has been done before. Perhaps not better, but at least just as well. (Witness the gem of a thriller “Before and After”)

Tom Wilkinson (“Ghost and the darkness”, “Priest”) stars as Matt Fowler, the head doctor in the small fishing village where he and his family make their home. Here is the only acting nominee who, (I think) might be able to give Russell Crowe a run for his money on Oscar night. As the suffering father he is extremely empathetic. He puts across the feelings of helplessness, and despair, without ever resorting to extremes. His was the role that provoked the most discussion after the movie. While walking out, every conversation I heard went something along the lines of “In his shoes, what would you have done?”

Sissy Spacek (“The Grass Harp”, “Missing”) stars as Ruth Fowler, a local music teacher. Here I think is the one character whom the script treats unfairly, as she is never given a chance to become a sympathetic creation to the audience. Though Spacek does create a strong woman, a talented woman, she isn’t a terribly likeable one. It’s all too easy with this piece of writing, to lie your sympathies squarely on her incarnation’s husbands shoulders. The one element that I found to be very distracting to this script is
that you’re never quite sure why it is that Matt stays with Ruth. They don’t seem to mesh very well together as characters.

I was absolutely thrilled to see Nick Stahl (“The Man Without a Face”) again. In everything I have had the pleasure of watching this kid in, he’s been fantastic, (Laugh if you like, but I don’t think it’s any small feat keeping up with Mel Gibson) and “In the Bedroom” is no exception. As Matt and Ruth’s son Frank, he creates a young man with a strong head on his shoulders. So often in films now college kids are painted as mindless and whiny, but here Stahl portrays a smart one, who knows what he wants in love (Natalie Strout) and life and isn’t afraid to go after it.

One of the most amazing performances in this movie, (despite the small amount of time she spends on screen) is that of Marisa Tomei. (“My Cousin Vinny”, “What Women Want”) As Natalie Strout’s September to Frank’s May she is an absolutely adorable character, one you hope for straight until the final credits. It’s a stressful life being a single mother, but Tomei treats it with a great deal of respect.

Todd Field, (in his directorial debut) has made an incredible drama. “In the Bedroom” is a wonderful work, being as truthful as a movie can be while watching a series of people come to grips with a terrible loss. Does it deserve “Blackhawk Down’s place on this years list of Best Picture nominees? No. Is it worth your time and money? Definitely.

About the Reviewer: Jen Johnston is one of those lucky few who make a living at making sarcastic comments about films she loves, trying to remember them later, and writing them down. In her spare time she plays saxophone and piano, ballet dances, paints, does yoga,reads, runs, does endurance races with her horse, and (completely destroying her sweetness and light image) boxes competitively. Jen lives in Nova Scotia.