by Mel Valentin
Grief, the exploration of, examination of, and dissection of, can be, and has been a potent, powerful subject for filmmakers. You need look no further than "Rabbit Hole," James Cameron Mitchell’s ("Shortbus," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2007 Tony-nominated, Pulitzer Prize-winning play, for proof. Anchored by award-worthy performances from Nicole Kidman (who also produced) and Aaron Eckhart, a strong supporting cast, a perceptive, penetrating script by Lindsay-Abaire (adapting his own play for the screen), and surprisingly restrained direction by controversial writer-director Mitchell, "Rabbit Hole" is a nuanced, affecting, poignant exploration of loss, grief, and acceptance.Rabbit Hole opens eight months into the grieving process for Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart), an upper-middle class who lost their four-year old son in a tragic accident. Howie relies on his job and career for emotional stability, but Becca, a one-time stay-at-home mom, doesn’t have that stability. A difficult relationship with her mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest), often breaks down in bitterness and recrimination when Nat brings up Becca’s late brother (dead at 30 from a drug overdose). Becca’s relationship with her younger sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), is no less contentious. Irresponsible, immature, unemployable, Izzy announces her pregnancy by musician-boyfriend, Auggie (Giancarlo Esposito), adding to Becca’s unhappiness (she sees Izzy as unworthy of motherhood).
"Award-worthy performances, script, and direction."
Howie prods Becca into attending group therapy, but Becca, uncomfortable with revealing her inner life to relative strangers, responds negatively, deriding two other grieving parents, “God-freaks” in her parlance, when they lean hard rely on their religious faith in a Christian god to explain the inexplicable death of their child. Seeing little value in returning to group therapy, Becca announces that she won’t attend another meeting. Howie, unhappy with Becca’s attitude, starts to spend time with another grieving parent, Gaby (Sandra Oh), who’s seemingly more responsive to his emotional needs. Becca, attempting to find her own, unique way through grief, becomes obsessed with the teen, Jason Willette (newcomer Miles Teller, in a remarkable performance), responsible for the death of her son.
Anyone familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying), or, more likely, the “five stages of grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) will see them played out in Becca and Howie’s respective and collective character arcs. Lindsay-Abaire’s script, however, does more than just hit the five stages of grief. Lindsay-Abaire creates relatable, identifiable characters, flawed characters, regardless of their social class or economic standing, stumbling and fumbling their way toward the final stage of grief (backsliding to earlier stages happens, however) as they try, inevitably, to save their floundering marriage.
Lindsay-Abaire’s sympathetic portrayal extends to Becca’s relationship with Jason. What she wants or thinks she wants, an explanation, a plea for forgiveness, an object for her anger, but she gets more: the chance to show compassion, to forgive. They meet, warily, reluctantly, in the park, sitting at opposite ends of a park bench. It’s there that an explanation for the title begins to emerge, in a project Jason’s developed to cope with guilt and grief of his own. A less extreme search for connection occurs between Becca and her mother and Becca and her sister.Between Lindsay-Abaire’s script that “opens up” the play to include scenes set in different locations and Cameron Mitchell’s unobtrusive, performance-focused direction, "Rabbit Hole’s" origin as a stage play is rarely, if ever, evident. Monologues or lengthy dialogue exchanges are kept to a minimum, a credit to Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell. Both understand that film’s a visual medium first, an aural medium second. On-the-nose-dialogue’s thankfully missing, leaving subtext intact, a sign that Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell respect their audience to read and interpret character motivations from their actions as well as what they say and don’t say, what they acknowledge and what they refuse to face. And with understated, underplayed performances in every role, the less said, the better.
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originally posted: 12/31/10 11:00:00