Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Recasting 2002: "In the Bedroom"

In the Bedroom is the second of three consecutive films in this project that was released the year prior to which I've selected it for. It's been one of the easier decisions since beginning, as Sissy Spacek's turn as a bereaving mother in Maine was one of the most lauded performances of that year. 

The film was adapted by Todd Field, who also directed. I haven't been able to find any info on the casting process, but knowing that it was made for under $2 million (which apparently included Field waiving his fees), it wasn't going to be the kind of movie that could afford Meryl in the lead role. That being said, had she been offered the script and showed interest, it's reasonable to think that the film would've been given a larger chunk of change for its production. 

The story follows Ruth Fowler (Spacek) and her husband Matt (Tom Wilkinson) and the aftermath of the murder of their son, Frank (Nick Stahl). Frank has recently graduated from college and is involved with a "more senior" woman named Natalie (Marisa Tomei). Natalie's psycho ex-husband, Richard (William Mapother), loses his shit and shoots Frank inside Natalie's home. Richard is able to post bail, resulting in Ruth and Matt running into him on occasion around town. This causes major friction between the couple, who angrily go after each other as a way of dealing with their pain. Unable to stand the possibility of a trial, Matt abducts Richard at gunpoint, then shoots him and buries him out in the woods with the help of a friend. The End. 

What a romp! JK. I have a hard time remembering exactly when I saw this movie for the first time, but it might have been way back in college, not super long after the film was released. It was an emotional movie and I remember feeling moved by how awful the situation was for the family, and how anxious I became when I envisioned anyone going on with their lives after taking the law into their own hands by ending someone's life, even if said person is awful and have themselves killed a loved one of yours. 

It's a tricky frame of mind. Your golden boy son is senselessly murdered by the ex-husband of a woman you don't like your son dating in the first place. Then you have to watch him gallivanting around the neighborhood without swift justice, only to then feel the only way you can go on is to end the guy's life. I had no qualms about saying ciao to Richard, honestly. It was more not being able to imagine how the Fowlers could possibly find peace by killing him. I feel like I'd just be beside myself with anxiety about getting caught, or convince myself that it really wasn't the right thing to do and now I can't undo it. 

But I have to try to think about it from the position of the Fowlers. I tend to think that Matt feels the double burden of wanting to end his own grief, as well as feeling the only way Ruth, and perhaps his marriage, will be able to survive is if Richard is dead. There's obviously a discussion about the plan between the couple at some point, as Ruth asks Matt when he returns home "Did you do it?" Ruth seems content at the end, while Matt maybe not so much. Although they're both free of ever having to see Richard around town again, the fact remains that one of them had to actually look the guy in the face and then shoot him. It gives me the willies. 

And I just have to show this clip (0:54). 

Love a good backhanded slap. The film was an overwhelming success both with critics and at the box office ($44.8 m off of a $1.7m budget). It showed up on many top ten lists that year and it scored six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Spacek, Wilkinson, and Tomei were all nominated, along with multiple other nominations among critics circles. Spacek was the early front runner to take home the Oscar, having received the Golden Globe at the start of the season for Lead Actress in a Drama. She ultimately lost SAG and the Oscar to Halle Berry for Monster's Ball, an outcome that to this day tends to be controversial. It's sort of pathetic that Berry was, and remains to this day, the only person of color to win the Academy Award for Actress in a Leading Role. But it's also too bad that it was for this performance. I am definitely not alone in thinking Berry is not particularly good in it, much less deserving of the most prestigious award given out yearly for film. But she had a strong narrative that year, and Spacek had already previously won.  

It would've been a great part for Meryl. There's a wide spectrum of emotions to portray here, from doting wife and mother, to dejected mourner, to histrionic murder-plotter. At the very least, I suspect Meryl would have done a far better job in the scenes where Spacek is conducting a choir (OMG those hand movements). The character is not a particularly sympathetic one, even though she's grieving the loss of her son. It gives me a little bit of Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People vibes. Incidentally, that was the year Spacek happened to be the young award robber, as she took home the trophy for Coal Miner's Daughter over what I consider Moore's more layered and interesting portrayal


  1. Fabulous choice Jeff, I wholeheartedly agree! Wonderful movie with some really memorable scenes and raw emotions on show.

    For 2003, in line with the changes to year, I'm going with the beautiful "Far From Heaven".

    1. I thought the shooting takes place at Natalie’s home and Not at frank’s parents home. Maybe you (Jeff) meant that it was Richard parents home. Can you guys clarify this for me?

    2. No you're right. It's Natalie's home. I've edited the post to correct.

    3. I thought Halle should have been in contention for "Frankie and Alice". She was superb in that (although the ending felt rushed, like they'd ran out of money) and she was indeed superior to the winner from that year.

  2. I would love to see this movie recast with Streep in the Tom Wilkinson role.

    1. Awesome idea. I don't know if I've mentioned before that I'm toying with a recasting project of having Meryl perform roles that were originally portrayed by men. The options would no doubt be endless, but I feel I'm kind of bad at envisioning a lot of the roles. Especially if the character is originally a husband acting across from a wife or plays a traditionally fatherly role. But yes, as far as the psychology of Wilkinson's role in In the Bedroom, there's a lot of great stuff to do there.

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