A Death in the Family
Rabbit Hole peers into the wages of grief
by Molly Templeton
RABBIT HOLE Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his play. Cinematography, Frank G. DeMarco. Editor, Joe Klotz. Music, Anton Sanko. Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhard, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller and Sandra Oh. Lionsgate, 2010. PG-13. 92 minutes.
Pointing out that Rabbit Hole is a change of pace for director John Cameron Mitchell is something of an understatement. Mitchells last film, Shortbus, was a profane, funny ensemble piece about a gaggle of New Yorkers and the ways love and sex complicate their relationships. Before that, Mitchell starred in and directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a musical about a transsexual from East Berlin whose plan to marry an American doesnt quite pan out. And now comes Rabbit Hole, a precisely controlled story about a couple dealing with the recent death of their young son.
|Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole|
But despite the initial contrast ã Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a pair of wealthy squares next to Hedwig and the folks from Shortbus ãMitchells films do have a few things in common. The stories are structured to wrap their wounded emotional cores in very specific trappings, locating their characters concerns in particular places: Hedwig sings her heart out in nightclubs; Shortbus takes its name from the sex club its characters visit; the Corbetts tasteful, boring home in Rabbit Hole becomes comfort, reminder and prison. In all three films, characters wrestle with the disconnect between how others ã lovers, family, friends, strangers ã see them and how they see (or want to see) themselves.
In Rabbit Hole, a patina of grief has settled over Becca and Howie. People look at them differently. Their story has shunk down to a tiny, painful nubbin, everything cast aside but the events of one day. The sympathy of neighbors, the tears of support group members and the empathy of her own mother all drive Becca crazy; she wants to control things, to make everything just right. Howie deals in his own way: revisiting the past, keeping busy, making friends.
Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole is salted with humor, particularly in the scenes involving Sandra Ohs Gabby. The film is careful to dance around sentimentality and the fetishization of grief ãbut that carefulness extends too far. When Becca cracks in a grocery store, her hurt and anger wildly misdirected, its genuinely upsetting. But much of Rabbit Hole feels too finely balanced, each piece of the narrative neatly matched by an opposite piece. Becca is uptight; her sister is prone to bar fights and still lives at home. Howie deals with his grief by remembering; Becca would rather tuck the pain away. Through it all, their blandly nice house sits in the background, calling attention to itself through its very lack of character: Are we meant to not notice it, and to see the performances instead? Or is it illustrative of the ordinary life these people used to live, all comfort and no personality? Anton Sankos cautious, safe score, built to comfort and relax, works against the script, which is at its strongest when difficult emotions are closest to the surface.
For much of the film, the reins are pulled too tightly, as if the film has taken Beccas controlling instinct too much to heart. The key exception to this is the delicate way Lindsay-Adaire reveals the identity of the teenage boy (Miles Teller) whom Becca follows home from school. Just when you think the film is going to stay huddled in the changed, stifling world of the Corbetts, it expands to look at their grief from an unexpected position. This careful expansion, more than any performance or carefully decorated room or precisely illustrated clash between family members, gives Rabbit Hole moments of greatness. Mitchells film is good, but feels as if it owes its flashes of transcendence entirely to its source material; its the words of Lindsay-Adaires script that resonate, not the means with which theyre brought to cinematic life.
Rabbit Hole opens Friday, March 25, at the Bijou.