In the Bedroom

The small town seaport of Camden, Maine rivals Peyton Place as a setting for romance and jealousy...

How director Todd Field (TV series: "Once and Again") gets so much right in his first feature film, "In the Bedroom," but lets it slip away is only one of the mysteries to be solved in this slow-moving story about wife abuse and retaliatory murder.

Marisa Tomei ("What Women Want"), an estranged wife and mother of two young boys, and Nick Stahl (TV series: "Seasons of Love"), her grad school bound younger lover, get the movie off to a fast start with an energetic romp in a meadow on the outskirts of the seaside village of Camden, Maine.

Okay, it's a bit clich?d, but their sensuous roll in the grass is so joyful it's hard not to celebrate their passions with them. Seize the moment, there'll be no such joy to be found elsewhere in the film.

The cinematic portrait the director paints of New England small-town life --its piney woods, its rocky harbor, its everyday people-- is Andrew-Wyeth authentic. Plain, simple, straightforward, there's no doubt he's captured the sense of this place and has a strong feeling for its inhabitants. But like the outsiders who invade David Mamet's picture post-card town in "State and Main," the leading cast members of "In the Bedroom" never quite blend in with the scenery.

Tomei is a cashier in a convenience story, seemingly happy with her blue collar lot - except when bothered by her husband (William Mapother), who's angry about her relationship with Stahl. Stahl is a talented artist whose parents want him to go to grad school, but he's thinking of keeping on with his summer job as a lobster fisherman.

Sissy Spacek is an efficient mom, controlling wife, and leader of the girl's high school chorus. The dad (Tom Wilkinson) is the town doctor with a comfortable practice but happiest when he's out on the lobster boat with his son or playing cards with his cronies -- who deliver up the movie's most genuine moments.

Only the son seems to know his mom has turned his dad into an errand boy. But when he disappears from the script, we miss the pensive energy he brought to the film. Just as we miss the energy of Tomei when she also fades into the background and the angry mother and grieving father become the film's central focus.

From here on out the plot becomes melodramatic, the characters overly confused, and the movie slowly collapses under its own weight.

Though Sissy Spacek has received the kind of praise originally heaped upon Mary Tyler Moore for her performance in "Ordinary People," Spacek's role in "In the Bedroom" has a Norman-Rockwell simplicity that conceals the depth of character she's truly capable of portraying.

The same could be said about the movie itself -- "In the Bedroom" promises more than it delivers.