John Cameron Mitchell
David Lindsay-Abaire (Play: David Lindsay-Abaire)
Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito
PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug use and language
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How we cope with the loss of a loved one is at the center of Rabbit Hole, a movie that doesn’t wallow in pity and never becomes maudlin despite the potential of the plot.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie, a couple whose son is killed when he pursued his dog into the street. The audience is spared the full impact of the scene, showing it only briefly when described by Becca to her son’s killer Jason (Miles Teller) whom she stalks and eventually questions over the incident. Her way of coping is trying to rationalize the death. She doesn’t want to think about it because it brings so much pain, but she can’t hep but dwell on the incident, each reference to her child bringing an emotional response she can’t control. And by interviewing Jason who’s still so full of life, she has an opportunity to almost live vicariously through him. He is working on a self-penned and animated comic book called The Rabbit Hole about a series of alternate realities. Inside a young boy searches for his father and through this new experience comes to understand that sorrow is only manifested in one reality and in many others that sadness is not present. The concept acts as a small measure of comfort for Becca.
Howie’s grief is expressed through constantly re-watching a video of him and his son on his phone. Aggrieved, he tries to find a way to push on either by going to a support group or trying to have another child with his wife. His desire to keep every vestige of his son with him and in their house is frequently at odds with Becca who wants to remove every remnant in hopes that absence of reminder will drive away the pain. He is even tempted to cheat on his loveless marriage with a fellow support group member whose husband has left her. His temptation is strong, for it would allow him something he is not getting with his wife who has withdrawn into herself and left an icy void between them.
The film has four terrific and one quite good performance. Teller gives the least of the five performances, but that’s largely due to his lack of narrative thrust. His character is a vessel for Becca’s fears, frustrations and joys, but really has no other emotional clarity. To be believable in such a role is a testament to talent. Above him and in the terrific category is Sandra Oh as the “temptress” a grieving woman who shares her deepest thoughts with Howie. They have a similar coping style and their scenes together are quite good. Dianne Wiest has a very brief role as Becca’s controlling mother who lost her son as well, though at a more advanced age and due to his own doing, not that of someone else. Wiest hasn’t had such a strong role in a number of years, though it’s a bit too brief. However, she does immeasurable work with what little time she has.
When looking at Kidman and Eckhart, you can’t divorce one from the other. Although both have scenes apart, their time onscreen together is electric. The years of love and compassion have devolved into frustration and animosity. They are so incapable of coping together that it’s driving a wedge between them. Their performances are both together and separate quite spectacular. Kidman has more comparative experience, but Eckhart has used his career more wisely. Every great stage-to-screen adaptation requires actors who understand their characters and convey them appropriately and sympathetically. Both Eckhart and Kidman accomplish that. These are vibrant characters whose grief is accessible and contagious. You share their pain. You wonder how they could be so easily driven apart, yet understand why they have been. It’s as much their capability as that of director John Cameron Mitchell and screenwriter (and original playwright) David Lindsay-Abaire.
While Lindsay-Abaire has hardly had a successful career in film (he wrote both the poorly-reviewed Inkheart and awful Robots), Mitchell showed great energy and creativity with his one-man show Hedwig and the Angry Inch. While Hedwig had a great number of comedic elements, Rabbit Hole has none. It is a work of unrepentant sadness and emotional exploration. Yet, Mitchell handles it with aplomb. You would be hard-pressed to see where Rabbit Hole and Hedwig were at all related and that shows a willingness by the director to expand his horizons and traverse new ground. So much of the film’s success is thanks to Mitchell, though having a strong foundation in the script by Lindsay-Abaire certainly helps.
December 27, 2010