Friday, January 7, 2011

"Rabbit Hole" goes down with grace and power

Rabbit Hole (2010)
92 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: A

A film about a couple grieving over the loss of their child and its strain on their marriage is not in hopes of reaching a “feel-good” factor. But "Rabbit Hole" is so beautifully done with grace and power that it resists being a drippy dirge and taps into the human condition. 

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart visibly show the sadness as a once-idyllic couple who are in their grieving process after their 4-year-old son Danny chased the family dog into the street and struck by a car. When we meet Becca and Howie—she always working in her garden and declining a neighbor's dinner party—they have already Danny eight months ago. The couple tries a support group but it doesn't work for Becca. Their sex life is gone. Another personal knife in the gut is the pregnancy news of Becca's wild-child younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard). Becca and Howie grieve differently over Danny's death: she takes his pictures and drawings down and gets rid of his clothes, while Howie still watches family videos of him. Becca spots the teen Jason (Miles Teller) that hit Danny and they secretly begin having park-bench meetings where there's no blame and the guilt is lifted. Becca's even touched by Jason's handmade comic book, “Rabbit Hole.” 

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, in an eclectic, weighty change of gears after offbeat originals "Shortbus" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," he never lets "Rabbit Hole" settle into a grim, maudlin TV movie. In fact, the story doesn't wallow in the sorrow and Mitchell heals the grief, under the circumstances, with a glimmer of humor and light at the end of the tunnel. Never precious or pretentious, it's a simmering, insightful, and emotionally vivid film. David Lindsay-Abaire adapted the screenplay from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and there's a hint of its play roots but the director does a fine job of opening it up. And Anton Sanko's musical score helps that it's not melodramatic garbage: it's lovely without being manipulative. This is a real actor's film. 

Kidman, in one her strongest performances in years, is a powerhouse, nakedly honest as Becca who's rigid and even a little bit cruel and icy. Eckhart gives his most accomplished performance to date, not only plugging into Howie's arc of grief and reconnection into his marriage. Their screaming-match scene verges on histrionics from Eckhart but still feels like a real couple's explosion of emotions. The great Dianne Wiest is touching and even funny as Nat, Becca's mother, who has also lost a child at age 30 but to a drug overdose (a comparison to Danny's death that infuriates Becca). Blanchard is also fine as Izzy, who resents the fact that Becca thinks she might not deserve having a child. Newcomer Teller is a real find as he can express so much with his face and brings sympathy to the role. Sandra Oh is even wonderful in a supporting turn as another grieving parent that Howie takes solace in. 

By the end of "Rabbit Hole," nothing is fixed with an easy solution or shortcut, like real life, but takes us down a consistently moving and cathartic journey.

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