A New England couple deals with the aftermath of a family tragedy.
Directed by Todd Field
Starring Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, and Marisa Tomei
Initial Review by Lane Davis
I admit this is a film I liked very much in my early 20’s, when I was still pretty young and figuring out what it’s like to grieve myself. I have this very particular memory of watching this film, at some point in late 2001 or 2002, and seeing Marisa Tomei react to finding Frank’s body and thinking, “Yep, that’s what it feels like.” It’s a credit to Tomei that she got the feeling of immediate grief and ongoing guilt so right in this film. I know that it was generally felt she stole the Academy Award when she won for “My Cousin Vinny,” but she was pretty much the best thing in this film in my opinion and maybe it’s just Hollywood’s fault that she never had the chance to grow into a great talent.
This is a film about small towns. It’s about grief and about revenge. It’s about how small towns run the play-by-plays of their local baseball teams over and over again, which is a metaphor for how small towns never forget their own histories. I don’t know if other members of our mediocre club grew up in small towns, but I did and this film gets what it feels like, and I’m pretty sure grief and revenge are universal experiences.
Field’s film grasps the small town experience well--of being the topic of conversation amongst everyone you know; of knowing everyone who gets coffee at the convenience store. I’m not even sure what the African choir thing added to the narrative except some sort of weird Ivy League dissonance which inhabits every middle class New England town.
These are the things the film gets right, but watching this film 15 years later I couldn’t help but feel there is something missing here. It’s a quiet film about revenge, but it still feels as if that magic malevolent something that would have made this film truly great was missing. It needed a slight seasoning of the macabre; just a pinch more of the grotesque and then we would have been cooking. The great New England story tellers, from Melville to Stephen King, all realize that there’s something particularly horrific and terrifying about groups of people that would choose to live in a land where the temperature doesn’t rise above 25 for a good five months of the year. I liked Tom Wilkinson’s performance for the most part, but just because Sissy Spacek is giving you the stink eye doesn’t mean you murder someone. There should have been something more “off” about his character.
I can’t help but imagine that one of the reasons “In the Bedroom” was so well received in 2001 was that it was that quiet film that let indie film goers experience a less brazen form of grief in their post 9/11 America. If this was a 2017 film, I imagine it wouldn’t have made it to the big screen; “In the Bedroom” feels like an HBO original. Although, “Manchester By the Sea” made it, so maybe I’m wrong.