Cinema Signal:

A Widow for One Year
by John Irving
The book on which the story is based

. "The Door in the Floor"

For filmgoers who like their tragic-comedies adult, serious, complex and literary, this story based on John Irving's novel, "A Widow for One Year," is your cup of drama. Its heart is set on convincing us that the cure for what ails you emotionally is sex. And, if it's a little on the forbidden side, all the better. To pull this off you'll be involved in a marriage crippled by loss, in which the husband will take the most desperate means a man could consider to break his wife out of her emotional deep freeze.

When successful but erratic children's book writer Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) brings young male writer's assistant Eddie O'Hare (Jon Foster) into the house, it's not really to help him with revisions. Something else is afoot in Ted's mind than grammatical corrections and it has to do with wife Marion's (Kim Basinger) estrangement since this once happily married pair lost their two teenage sons in a tragic car accident.

Ted is a rugged individualist with a freewheeling approach to life, to his work, and to the general population. He thinks nothing of going around naked, taking a shower in front of a perfect stranger, or toting his 6-year old daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning) around the house totally bare-assed, especially while poring over the family photos lining the walls, this family's obsession.

Revisiting the photos and the moments they each generate in the memory of the observer seems to substitute for TV. Recalling the past, when everyone was still alive, seems to be this family's passion and obsession.

For that matter, this household is layered with behavior that, well, shall we say doesn't conform to what we consider the accepted norms? The dark shadow of loss has put a spell over the family that seems to have shifted values like a planetary presence that alters the gravitational field."

A fine cast is brought together to make a wife's philandering and a husband's puppeteering comprehensible, but it's a creative challenge. It's about people who have brought themselves into a strange distortion of values and a distorted understanding of how to resolve a deep disfunction. For the viewer, it's difficult to interpret it as more than a complex justification for the healing effects of sex, as though it was a mental bandaid. Well, maybe it is; who am I to say?

Bridges, who may be among the most underrated actors around, embraces the enterprise into his copious teddy bear warmth and larger-than-life personality. Kim Basinger turns in what could be her best work as a woman locked up behind a wall of restrained silence, unable to make contact through former lines of communication but who has no problem with new, simpler ones.

And, how does a six year old stay so totally in her role's reality while so much adult confusion and errors threaten to distort her early understanding of the world? There is something about natural talent and little Elle Fanning has it in mesmerizing abundance. Not a false note to the little character.

This is writer-director Tod William's definition of life in a beach community of East Hampton, New York during one dangerously lived summer. It's a mixture of preoccupation with lust, life changing consequences and some peppery touches of humor. It's complex enough to raise doubts about any fixed reaction but it creates a time and space that says something uncomfortable about the human condition and its possibilities.

The title refers to Ted's new children's book, an image fraught with symbolism.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Kim Basinger and John Foster
An unexpected alliance

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