I'd like to spank the Academy

In the Bedroom (2001)

in the bedroomDirected by Todd Field

Even when I recognize the titles of the movies that I’m watching, I don’t always know anything else about them. Sometimes, though, the title gives me a very good idea of what the movie is about. Other times, I am completely wrong. I had never really wanted to see In the Bedroom because I was convinced it was a raunchy sex comedy. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was surprised to find that it is instead a slow-moving drama about how a family deals with tragedy. I think I will have to stop judging movies based on their titles.

So what’s the story? Frank Fowler is a college student home for the summer. To his mother’s dismay, he starts dating Natalie, an older woman with two little boys. Natalie also has an ex-husband with a temper. As the summer heats up, tensions mount, and tragedy soon follows.

The Good: In Ian McEwan’s (rather dull) novel Saturday, two people are discussing Tolstoy, and one says, “The genius is in the details.” I feel that way about In the Bedroom. Everyone is believable, partly because the screenplay allows for details. When she’s depressed, Ruth Fowler sits on her couch, watching pointless TV and smoking. Matt Fowler likes to meet his son, Frank, for lunch. Natalie makes awkward conversation with her boyfriend’s college-educated parents, trying to get them to like and accept them. These little scenes, while not action-packed, reveal character and make the people real. The realism makes the sadness later much more real.

Because the screenplay moves so slowly, the acting had to be incredible. Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek are Matt and Ruth Fowler, who are trying to understand and be supportive of their son’s choices, while at the same time not being happy about them. Marisa Tomei is Natalie, a woman who enjoys dating a younger man, but can also see his naiveté. Frank is played by Nick Stahl. He makes Frank a very sweet young man who is enthusiastic about life, but doesn’t really understand that choices have consequences. They are all a joy to watch.

The cinematography was interesting. It would have been very easy to film this movie about a normal family with straightforward camera angles, but instead the filmmakers took the opportunity to use the camera to show that people have inner lives and thoughts. I liked that a lot.

The Bad: Because this movie allows for the details, for the normal conversations between ordinary people, it gets a little boring sometimes. But guess what? Life is boring sometimes. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the ending, though. It might have been too exciting to be believable.

The Ugly: I spent a lot of time being annoyed that Natalie and Frank spent so much time with her boys when both Frank and Natalie kept insisting it was only a summer fling. It seemed like such an irresponsible thing to do, to let kids get attached to a boyfriend you’re only planning on dating for a few months. It made me grumpy.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Tom Wilkinson); best actress in a leading role (Sissy Spacek); best actress in a supporting role (Marisa Tomei); best writing, screenplay based on material previously produced or published.

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