Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some drug use and language)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 12/17/10 (limited); 12/25/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 24, 2010

Rabbit Hole is not about grieving but about moving forward. It's not about forgetting—there is no forgetting—but acceptance. It is a film that is blunt like its characters, who speak openly without any self-censoring about their emotions (even when they seem to fly in the face of expected or, what some consider, acceptable reactions), honest about the wide-ranging effects of loss (There is as much humor as there is heartbreak, as much conviction as there is doubt), and unflinching about the ending of more than one life in a loved one's death.

It features performances from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, as the surviving parents of a 4-year-old child who died eight months prior in an accident in which everyone involved knows no one is at fault but is convinced he or she is entirely to blame, that are daring and illuminating in their play with emotional masks. They wear one in public with friends, family, and old acquaintances to aid themselves by avoiding the only topic of importance or to relax others who might feel uncomfortable with it. Strike a certain nerve, though, or put the two alone together, and it all floods out of them—the resentment, the anger, the uncertainty, the misery, the pain.

The two approach their gradual reconciliation with this new, strange life in different ways. Becca (Kidman), who presumably gave up her job in the city to raise their son Danny, cannot stand having the constant reminders of him as she goes about her daily routine in the house—the paintings on the refrigerator, the dog he loved, his bedroom that now serves as a shrine, and even fingerprints on the doorknobs are always there. Howie (Eckhart), though, loves the unexpected mementoes as much as the artwork on the fridge or the video of Danny playing in a tire swing on Howie's cell phone that he watches as nightly ritual.

Howie thinks she is trying to "erase" the memory of their son, while Becca thinks he has no idea how she needs to move forward. David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay (based on his stage play) is wholly sympathetic and never judgmental in such a way that they are both right with neither being wrong.

They attend a weekly support group, where the other couples' reactions mirror their own. Howie will sit politely listening to the stories of others in the group, letting them affect him in however they might. Becca, meanwhile, will fidget uncomfortably. Another wife and husband to whom they speak Gaby (Sandra Oh) and Kevin (Stephen Mailer) have been attending for almost eight years—"professional wallowers," Becca calls them.

One day, she can't stand the "God talk" anymore and throws the logic of one couple's comfort that their daughter's death was just part of a plan so she could become an angel back at them. Needless to say, Becca doesn't return to group, while Howie does, striking up a friendship with Gaby, whose husband decides to leave both the group and her, which mainly involves smoking pot in the parking lot.

One of Becca's lifelines comes in the form of her mother Nat (Dianne Wiest), whose own son died. She tries to help Becca understand how her own brother's death affected her mother, but Becca despises the comparison of a child who chased his dog into the street with a 30-year-old drug addict.

The other unexpected aid is Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager who struck Danny with his car. Becca follows him until the two bump into each other, strike up an awkward conversation, and then decide to meet regularly in the park. He talks about his life (school, the death of his father) and apologizes for what he regrets (He wishes he were driving down another street that day, he didn't see Danny when he swerved to avoid the dog, and he might have been going a little bit over the speed limit), and she listens, later admiring and finding consolation in a comic book he drew about parallel universes (It's about a son searching for his dead scientist father in other dimensions, and when Becca asks if it's about Jason's father, he says, "My dad was an English teacher," giving a glimpse into his way of dealing with grief).

Lindsay-Abaire's script is full of insights, with nearly every detail of each action—big or small—by Becca and Howie revealing, in one way or another, their subconscious or cognizant grieving process. Becca refuses to have or be company. Her neighbor invites her over for a dinner party, and Becca lies to avoid it. She will not call a mutual friend of hers and Howie's, because she feels abandoned by the woman. The friend and her husband also have a daughter about to turn the same age Danny was.

Howie, on the other hand, plays squash with the husband, asking about his kids (The boy is starting tee-ball, which is news Howie takes with the most telling pause). The one time Becca does make her way to visit old friends she visits her old workplace, where almost everyone she worked with has left. The one man she does recognize almost immediately asks her about her family, and Becca shuts down and instantly excuses herself from the conversation.

Director John Cameron Mitchell allows the actors to rip into Lindsay-Abaire's scenario and words and fills in some of the silent moments of Rabbit Hole with tender and thoughtful interludes. In one, Becca sits in tearful anguish as she watches Jason prepare for prom, the memory of the accident intercut into the moment in almost still frames. The other key one is the final scene, which imagines a party for friends and relatives and ends on the perfect note: the first and only sign of reciprocal physical affection between two people who have no idea how to move forward but have finally decided to do so together.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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