Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rabbit Hole
Marital, Faithful Secrets In The Wake Of Painful Loss

Nicole Kidman as Becca and Aaron Eckhart as Howie in John Cameron Mitchell's drama "Rabbit Hole" . 

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Rabbit Hole" opened in numerous U.S. cities over the weekend, and it holds your interest with two effective performances from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as Becca and Howie, an upper middle-class married couple grappling with the aftermath of their son's untimely death.  The film is based on the award-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the screenplay.

As directed by John Cameron Mitchell, "Rabbit Hole" is discreet, marking a change of pace for a director who's helmed more outré films like "Hedwig And The Angry Inch" and "Shortbus".  Mr. Mitchell however, has an intimately personal stake: he lost a sibling of his own when he was younger, and he lends this stage material dignity and restraint.  One of the great pleasures of "Rabbit Hole" is that it goes places you don't think it will, and avoids going to areas you think it's bound to go.

Becca and Howie live in suburban New York.  Each handles the grieving process differently.  One lashes out in bursts of anger.  The other is comfortable going to group therapy sessions.  Later in the film we see a young man.  One of the two bereft parents sees the same person.  Who is he?  We see him and one of the parents again.  The scenes of their interaction are the film's best, with great acting from Miles Teller, who plays the young man.  Mr. Teller's character has a quality that makes him more mature in many respects than the rest of those in Mr. Cameron's drama.  I don't necessarily think that's by design; though it's Mr. Teller's subtlety and the openness of Mr. Cameron's direction of those scenes that is revealing and refreshing.

The few differences between the play and the adapted screen work are minor though striking, including the reversal of pursuit between two key figures in the play, which occurs entirely in the parents' house.  Several film characters are non-existent in the play.  Despite the obvious and inevitable changes in landscape, Mr. Cameron's cameras maintain a closeness to the principals involved.  There's some fun and mischief by the director too, in the way he skewers the idea of group therapy.  The film has other flashes of odd comedy to lighten serious moments.  Through it all cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco's visual style mostly stays light and airy.

"Rabbit Hole" could be said to be the latest in a series of a "rich white people grieving" genre of pictures ("Ordinary People", "In The Bedroom" among others).  Audiences may or may not care a wit about the circumstances of Becca and Howie, though I found myself completely invested.  Others may say, "why should we care about their hardships?"  Point taken.  After all, aside from the upcoming "Blue Valentine", how many American films today sincerely take the time to assess the temperature of poor couples' hardships?  "Rabbit Hole" juxtaposes Becca's younger, working-class sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), who is pregnant, perhaps introducing a veiled idea that working-class people are less sympathetic and somehow don't deserve kids, or, more precisely, that Izzy's boon is meant to manufacture, reinforce and amplify more sympathy for the richer, bereaved Becca and Howie.  The film's self-consciousness on this point is reflected in Izzy's statement to Becca: "I resent the feeling that I get from you that I don't deserve this baby."

The actors are the film's biggest strength.  Mr. Eckhart's portrait of Howie is cerebral, weighted by the tragedy his character experiences.  The tragedy is buttressed by others' intractable dispositions.  Howie is straight-jacketed but as authenthic as any grieving parent can be.  He resists sentimentality, but if he harbors any it's displayed with the utmost economy and necessity.  The film follows his lead, largely avoiding syrupy-sweet layers of sadness, and Anton Sanko's score is hardly noticeable, at least on an initial viewing.  There's a melodramatic scene that momentarily freezes "Rabbit Hole", establishing itself more as an acting showcase than as an episode belonging within the structure of an otherwise genteel film.  Ms. Kidman is stellar as Becca, an unlikable mother whose self-righteousness blinds her better instincts.  Finely attuned to her character, Ms. Kidman balances adult rigidity with child-like wildness and curiousity.  Her talent here is a joy to observe, and it's such carefully calibrated acting.

Mr. Cameron also makes the most of diverse casting choices, with Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, and admirable supporting work from Dianne Wiest as Becca's well-meaning mother.  They add a richness to the film's varying moods, serving a purpose that goes beyond ornamental.

Essentially, "Rabbit Hole" is about the collision of the secrets that marital partners harbor from each other and how those revelations helps foster a gateway forward between them.  The secrets uncovered are hardly instances of cheating; they are faithful and entirely plausible, within the ambit of any human being who has had a long-term relationship, whether or not they've suffered heartbreaking loss.  "Rabbit Hole" isn't as raw or abrasive as Andrea Arnold's superb debut film "Red Road", a British drama about a working-class woman enduring the loss of a child, but it is a mature, smartly observed drama.

With: John Tenney, Stephen Mailer, Mike Doyle, Roberta Wallach, Patricia Kalember.

"Rabbit Hole" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for mature thematic material, some drug use and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 32 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2010.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW

"movie reviews" via popcornreel in Google Reader