Matt and Ruth Fowler (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek) are a middle-aged couple living in a small town in Massachusetts (I think). Their son, Frank, is back from college for the summer and working on his lobster boat. He also falls in love with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), a divorced mom with two kids. Matt and Ruth are shaken a bit by their son’s new lover, but they accept her, to a degree, when they see how much her son loves her. Richard Strout (William Mapother), the ex-husband, isn’t taking too well to the break-up or the new lover and his violent tendencies increase.
“In The Bedroom”, the first film directed by Todd Field (an actor who has appeared in various films, including “Eyes Wide Shut”), is a quiet, accomplished, powerful film exploring the fabric of a family’s life. Field thrusts us into the story very quickly. The first scene depicts Frank and Natalie running through a field. Then we watch them at a family picnic. My point is that the relationship has already begun and they have already developed a certain amount of history. Both of her kids are already attached to Frank. This is a highly effective way of quickly and abruptly thrusting us into the story, ramping up our involvement in their lives. As we realize that these characters are already “together” that forces us to have an investment in their relationship. Field also depicts certain things in a tableau form. Brief shots of various characters sitting quietly contemplating or moving woodenly through their day, communicate far more than a highly theatrical scene of someone yelling or screaming. This method of depicting certain things, and leaving other things to our imaginations, also helps to ground the film in realism. “In The Bedroom” is a remarkably accomplished first film and makes me anticipate his next film even more.
Field’s accomplished direction is further enhanced by the fine performances by his cast. Sissy Spacek creates one of the most memorable characters I have ever seen in a film. Her portrayal of Ruth, the mother, is mesmerizing. Throughout the first half of the film you get a sense of her deepening disquiet and wonder what, besides her disapproval of her son’s relationship, might be lurking underneath. In the second half of the film, her anger makes itself known, but without the showy theatrics associated with many similar types of performances. For a leading role, Spacek remains quiet through many scenes, yet effectively communicates her feelings through her face and body language. I really believed she was in this marriage and Frank’s mother and had a history with this family.
Tom Wilkinson, probably best remembered for his role as General Cornwallis in “The Patriot”, is equally remarkable as Matt Fowler. For the first half of the film, he quietly gives in to his son at every turn, and in fact, Frank turns to him when his mother disapproves. He has a medical practice, but leaves most days at lunch, to either fish with his son, or spend some time with him. He also brings a note of jealousy to the character, indicating that perhaps Matt is jealous of his son. In the second half of the film, his character makes many changes as well, but they are also believable and compelling.
The supporting cast is equally memorable. Nick Stahl brings a refreshing sense of enthusiasm and bravery to the role of Frank. You really get a sense that Frank is in love with Natalie, cares for her kids and loves his life. As he made various decisions throughout the film, I found myself compelled to shout to him to do something different. Of course, I didn’t, but the fact that I considered this proves the power of his performance. I have never really been a fan of Marisa Tomei, but her performance as Natalie is very strong and believable. Natalie is a woman that is trying to have a happy life, a strong life and an independent life. In the film, we get a sense that she has finally reached that point, except for the influence of her ex-husband. There is a scene between Natalie and Ruth that is fairly brief, but very memorable.
“In The Bedroom” is a great, memorable film containing some of the best performances of 2001.