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Rabbit Hole (2010) ****

December 23, 2010

written by: David Lindsay-Abaire
produced by: Nicole Kidman
directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some drug use and language)
91 min.
U.S. release: December 17, 2010 (limited) & December 25, 2010 and January 14, 2010 (wide)
Every year there’s at least one film that makes its way through the festival circuit that touches on a very fragile topic….the death of a child. Certainly not a subject matter that will get audiences running to theaters in droves or catching the box office by surprise, but it clearly is one that should certainly not be pushed aside or glossed over. Sooner or later, you will come to know a friend or family member who has lost their child, it’s inevitable. You may have even experienced such a loss yourself. Now, seeing a film about such a subject may not naturally be highly on your “must see” list, but “Rabbit Hole” will surprise you, and next thing you know you’ll be talking to everyone about it.
We meet Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) Corbett eight months after the death of their young son. They are both distraught and fighting to move past the awful tragedy and figure out what to do with their lives. Yet, they are doing so separate from each other. While they both still live in the same house, once also the home of a rambunctious and imaginative toddler, they walk around each other as if surrounded by invisible walls. Becca can no longer tolerate the support group she and Howie have gone to, feeling as if more talk about God will make her explode. Howie finds it beneficial, something routine that he can count on, and looks forward to seeing others who’ve experienced such loss. He would rather keep their son’s room intact and hear his laughter while watching video clips, while she would prefer to donate clothes and toys and take down the drawings that still hang on to the fridge.
It doesn’t help that their large home is now quiet, leaving them to the silence of their own thoughts as well as an uncertain future. Howie wonders if they should try to have another child, (as many have suggested) or when they will have sex again. For someone who is keeping a variety of emotions to herself, such questions or romantic advances, only lead to more tenuous outbursts. The result is two people who love each other, yet are at an emotional impasse, both inconsolable and dealing with their grief in separate ways.
It remains to be seen if such grief will bring them together or break them apart. While they deal with the aftermath together alone, they are not completely alone.  Becca’s mother, Nat (Dianne Weist) is the kind that gives unsolicited advice and often proves to more of an agitation to the already easily agitated Becca. There’s also Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), Becca’s younger, somewhat directionless sister, who recently has become pregnant. What can Nat and Izzy talk about around Becca? Can Nat offer advice on the loss of a child, seeing as how she too lost a son? Can Izzy discuss maternity clothes with Becca?  The interaction between the three of them is some of the most real familial exchanges you’ll see on-screen in recent years.
The couple split into two directions that could have sunk into typical clichés, instead we see refreshing characterization surface in unlikely subplots. Howie holds on to group attendance and finds himself building a friendship with Gabby (Sandra Oh), another parent (or survivor) and group-lifer, where underlying tempations may or may not surface.
Meanwhile, Becca methodically encounters Jason (Miles Teller), the shy teen connected to their son’s death, and the creative source of the film’s title. Both of these human connections are steps in their own respective healing, only one of them cross paths though in an emotionally raw, albeit much-needed, climax.
Actor/Director John Cameron Mitchell (primarily known for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) shines a soft light on a tender and sensitive aspect of life in the most humane way possible. He simply allows these actors to live their characters and just be in the moment. Working from a script by David Lindsay-Abaire (based on his 2005 award-winning play), Mitchell brings just the right amount of heartbreak and laughter to the screen. Such a difficult story needs some levity and the humor here never once feels forced or treated as a diversion. Nothing is ever sugar-coated here, nor is it glossed over. Instead, we see the filmmakers meet these characters where they’re at, revealing levels of grief in an impacting fashion. 
This approach would fail if not for actors that can appropriately portray what such an intelligent script calls for. Mitchell is gifted across the board with some fine talent that is delivering their career best, and even introduces some fantastic new talent. As Becca, Kidman leaves the camera to show on her complexity without uttering a word. From the way she plants flowers in her garden to the way she studies others in group, her misery and frustration is apparent. It’s her best work in years as she gives viewers a woman who basically stops living, with no visibly resuscitation. Eckhart is more than a suitable balance for Kidman, he is matched to her like a spouse should. Even though, we see their marriage in a tumultuous time, we can tell that it’s Howie’s deep love for his wife which will keep him there. Eckhart shows that it’s no easy task though, in a couple of scenes where he loses his cool that’ll leave you with a dropped jaw.
Neither of these actors have an easy job to do here and both excel at balancing each other out. They may not display physical affection here the chemistry is evident. Two standout supporting performances come from veteran Weist and newcomer Teller, who both display the right cadence in their important roles. Weist can usually be counted on to give herself over to a role as it is called for, and her heartfelt work here seems effortless. Whether it’s a scene where she and Kidman are deciding what to do with baby items to an inebriated revelation in bowling alley, Weist balances dignity and humor as her character’s own unresolved wounds appear. And in a role that would seem like an uncertain device, real-life teen Teller is a wonder. It’s as if the casting director pulled up as a local high school was letting out, looking for just the right kid. Indeed, he was found. Try not to be cut by his vulnerability, as he and Kidman openly fantasize a parallel universe where their characters would be free of punishment and pain. In each awkward scene, Tellar responds in both body language and line delivery, the exact way a teen would give the circumstances.
The film is accented with a score by composer Anton Sanko that is both knowing and complimentary. Where you would ordinarily expect a swelling accompaniment, Santo softens to silence, gently leaving the emotion of the scene to tell the story. He even uses nature as a soundtrack, including the wounds of birds chirping or a breeze of wind, emphasising the fragility of life.  
Here is a film that could’ve been relegated to a weepy Lifetime movie or something that would harken back to those after-school specials. Thankfully we are spared all that and instead witness a stirring film that is as endearing as it is haunting. Understandably, you may think it will be difficult to watch,  but give yourself a chance because this is one film you cannot miss. To my knowledge, no recent film has captured the utter helplessness, debilitating guilt and varying degrees of grief that this remarkable film accomplishes.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    December 24, 2010 12:49 pm

    I was getting teary eyed just reading the review. It sounds good, but heart-breaking. Might be one of those movies I watch while the kids are at school and Matt is working……

  2. February 22, 2011 5:50 pm

    Rabbit Hole may sound bleak, and it surely is at times, but its refreshingly new take on the subject coupled with Kidman’s mammoth performance make it a rewarding experience. Good review, check out my review when you can!


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