2011, PG-13, 92 min. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 14, 2011
Although it is achingly sad, Rabbit Hole is not maudlin or depressing. Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his play, the film ushers us into the lives of Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) Corbett, parents who are grieving the death of their child eight months earlier and trying to find a way to resume “normal” life. They are stuck in their loss, and neither the routines of daily life nor the solicitations of family and friends bring any relief. It does not help matters either that they find no comfort in each other; each one holds the grief close in a protective bubble that serves as a shield against emotional collapse and a barrier from re-entry into the stream of life. Becca is efficient and bitter, removing her son’s paintings from the refrigerator door and gathering all his clothing to give to her newly pregnant sister (Blanchard). Howie finds some comfort in repeatedly watching the video clip of his son that still remains in his cell phone and in the familiarity of a bereavement support group. This material could have been mawkish and tearjerking, and it is to the film’s credit that it avoids this subject matter’s obvious pitfalls. The restraint is all the more surprising because of its direction by Mitchell, whose two previous films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, are celebrated for their flamboyance and hyperbole. As Mitchell rises to the occasion, so do the actors: Rabbit Hole is a finely detailed ensemble showcase. The interplay of the characters, the push and pull of their words and gestures are beautifully wrought and altogether human. This is certainly one of Kidman’s best performances and, in a supporting role as Becca’s mother, Wiest again proves that there are few who can equal her range and subtlety. The movie occasionally shows signs of its genesis as a stage play in its heavy dependence on one-to-one colloquies but the artistry of these scenes’ delivery makes any hesitation disappear. More strained, however, are the scenes that occur between Becca and the teenager (Teller) who drove the vehicle that accidentally killed her son. She stalks him at first; later they meet for conversations on a park bench. It strains credulity, although incorporating the teen’s lasting guilt is a nice touch in this story that shares the grief but does not wallow in it. Rabbit Hole is, ultimately, realistic and compassionate but does not shy away from the dreadful truth that consolation is not always possible. Our grief must find ways to abide amongst the living.