December 22, 2010

MOVIES: Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010)

After making a pair of movies with loyal cult followings, director John Cameron Mitchell goes mainstream with Rabbit Hole, the story of a couple struggling to return to normal life after the accidental death of their 4-year-old son. It would be easy to turn this into a goopy mess of sentiment, but Mitchell avoids this, largely through David Lindsay-Abaire's skillful adaptaion of his own play.

Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances as Becca, who's coping mostly by retreating from the world and becoming even more icy and distant than usual. She has no taste for the comfort offered by religion, and feels as if her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) is pressuring her to get over her grief more quickly than she can manage.

Howie takes comfort, at least for a while, from a grief support group -- too touchy-feely for Becca -- but eventually, even that isn't enough to sustain him in the face of Becca's hostility. Eckhart does fine work here, and is particularly strong in the big argument scene, one of the few moments when either character cracks enough to let their emotions out.

The restraint of the movie is one of its great strengths; Kidman and Eckhart both excel at letting us see the emotional turmoil they're hiding from one another. (The great unmovable slab that Kidman's forehead has become in recent years actually works to her benefit here, helping her to maintain the frozen polite smile that seems to be Becca's default expression.)

Dianne Wiest is also very good as Becca's mother, who understands better than most what Becca is going through. In smaller roles, there's strong work from Tammy Blanchard as Becca's sister, who refuses to let Becca's grief prevent her from moving on with her own life, and Sandra Oh as a veteran member of Howie's support group.

The biggest mistake (as it was in the play) is the introduction of the teenager who was responsible for the boy's death; Miles Teller is fine in the role, but his scenes with Kidman are saddled with the movie's worst dialogue, and the fact that they're talking at all stretches beyond credibility.

Still, it's a solid movie, all the better for not indulging in cheap emotional theatrics. It makes me very envious, though, of those who got to see it on Broadway with Cynthia Nixon, John Slattery, and Tyne Daly.

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