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Bedroom Secrets

Spacek, Wilkinson Smolder in Gripping Drama

By Sandra M. Chung

associate arts editor

Directed by Todd Field

Screenplay by Robert Festinger

Starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei, Nick Stahl

Rated R

Much is to be said for films that convey their messages with honesty and depth. In the Bedroom is such a film, with a simple, predictable plot and everyday characters. The film’s strengths consist of seamless directing and powerful performances by a talented cast that draws the audience into a story that is only too real.

In The Bedroom is set in a small fishing town in Maine, where the Fowlers lead a picturesque existence. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson, Shakespeare in Love) is the Ivy League-educated town doctor; Ruth Fowler (Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter) leads the local girls choir. Their son Frank (Nick Stahl, Disturbing Behavior), a gifted architecture student, is home from his first year of college and working his own lobster boat for the summer. Matt and Ruth shower love and support on their only child, though they disagree over Frank’s relationship with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny), an attractive older woman with an estranged husband and two young children.

Frank begins to see what he initially considered a summer fling in a different light, though Natalie is unclear about the extent of her feelings for Frank. Their relationship is further complicated by Richard Strout (William Mapother, Magnolia), whose behavior becomes alarmingly volatile when Natalie refuses him a chance at repairing their failed marriage. Tension mounts until a shocking incident destroys the Fowlers’ idyllic lives forever.

Acting, directing, and editing come together in such a way that the Fowlers’ grief and rage assume the incredible power and beauty of a natural disaster. Wilkinson’s and Spacek’s performances erupt across the screen. Molten, searing waves of anguish flow as from a silent volcano. Matt wanders around town wraithlike, searching for answers or peace he cannot find. Ruth withdraws into her shell of heartbreak, emerging only to lash out at her husband and the cruelty of the world.

The script bears no excess dialogue or clichÉs. Rather, the actors fill and expand the space around simple lines with intricate physicalities and subtleties of delivery that amplify the meanings of their words and actions tenfold. The tragedy extinguishes the humorous, loving light in Wilkinson’s dark eyes. Spacek’s expressive jaw tightens with anger and droops with motherly grief. Oscar winner Tomei hits exactly upon the right notes of womanliness and discomfort in her unique blend of mannerisms. Stahl exudes charm and confidence while simultaneously implying vulnerability and intelligence. A very capable supporting cast fleshes out the rest of the story in beautifully genuine detail.

Todd Field (Once and Again) complements the cast with his masterful direction. The film is paced in such a way that it alternately lulls viewers into numbness and hurls them to electrifying heights of intense emotion. Some parts seem excessively drawn out, but the spacing between major plot turns leaves ample time for the movie-goer to notice the incredible wealth of fine detail. For example, Field characterizes the Fowlers’ lawyer chiefly through subtle visual hints, such as a childless family photo and impatient hands jangling keys in a pocket. The Fowlers’ home is authentic and thorough in the microscopic stories each and every faucet, picture and knickknack tell about the family.

When something important finally happens, it comes about with such force as to rivet one’s attention completely to the screen. That is not to say that every second of the film isn’t heavy with the intense humanity of the characters and the seamless, eerie realism of their story. The strength of the actors’ performances leaves it utterly impossible to avoid sensing the mirth, anger, jealousy, and grief radiating from their characters.

In the Bedroom is one among many independent films brought to widespread audiences this past year. It is also a drama of rare clarity. Its unique, intense, sometimes discomforting experience leaves one a little wounded or angered in the way that all good, serious stories do.