Rabbit Hole (2010)

24 Jun


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Rabbit Hole” is like the next “Ordinary People” of the early 21st century, and to me, that’s a good thing. This is just as emotionally involving and well-made as that 1980 Best Picture-winning family drama. And it’s odd, because this could have been as stale and overdone as most modern melodramas, but “Rabbit Hole” is smarter, more efficient, and better-acted than you might expect.

“Rabbit Hole” is a film about grief, particularly coping with the death of a little child. Already, that sounds like a made-for-TV schlocky, overdone melodrama. But “Rabbit Hole” mostly gets it right. The actors are great in making the characters seem real so that we can feel their pain and be convinced about their plight. And the writing is quite intelligent, based on a play by David Linday-Abaire, who also authors the screenplay here. Even if it seems all too real for people who have suffered a deep loss, and at times it is quite uncompromising, the emotions within the credible drama are evident and effectively done.

“Rabbit Hole” centers around Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), ordinary people doing their best to deal with everyday life after the accidental death of their four-year-old son, who was chasing a dog out in the neighborhood street and was struck by a car. Becca is attempting to move on, while Howie stays up all night watching home-movies that feature the boy. And the boy’s bedroom looks as if it’s still there waiting for the boy to come back. They’re enduring a good deal of grief as they’re practically restarting life since the incident, and a group therapy session doesn’t help much, as Becca is bitter enough to notice that these “mourners” are merely self-righteous for the sake of earning sympathy. Also, the couple’s marriage seems to be slowly but surely falling apart, and Howie turns to Gaby (Sandra Oh), who listens to him in sympathy, and he lets her because Becca won’t. Oh, and Gaby’s husband recently abandoned her.

Meanwhile, Becca finds someone to talk to—the last person one would expect for her to have conversations with: Jason (Miles Teller, very good), the teenager who drove the car that killed her son. She notices him and the emptiness in his eyes, and realizes the guilt he feels about that day. So she feels that if she makes him feel better about it, she herself will feel better about it.

Granted, this is not easy, and no one will feel 100% better about such a tragedy, but it does help to talk to someone.

There’s also a subplot involving Becca’s sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), who is unexpectedly pregnant. This leads to quiet denial from Becca who notices her sister’s irresponsibility and questions whether or not she’s able to raise or take care of a kid. And there’s also Becca and Izzy’s mother (Dianne Wiest), who herself has suffered a tragic loss—her son and Becca and Izzy’s brother.

As you can tell, every character is going through some sort of emotional conflict, and they’re finding (or trying to find) ways to cope with each situation either by themselves or through each other. They are not the same people they used to be because an experience such as becoming a parent and in this case losing a child will change a person in such a way that life could no longer be the same. It’s how they’re able to continue through life that really matters and makes them who they are now. These feelings are well-developed and lead to a lot of truly effective, sometimes heartbreakingly so, sequences that ring true and make us understand what they’re all going through.

The acting is an important asset to the success of “Rabbit Hole.” If we don’t believe what these characters endure, we don’t care, which is what makes “Rabbit Hole” all the more powerful in its acting in that we do care. Nicole Kidman delivers one of her best performances, as she delivers a highly credible portrayal of a woman enduring emotional pain and with a force that makes it all believable. Aaron Eckhart is good here too, as a man who has his own issues in dealing with his son’s death (and he’s clearly not on the same page of coping as his wife is). Of the supporting cast, Dianne Wiest delivers her best work in quite a while; Sandra Oh is appealing; Tammy Blanchard is convincingly rebellious; and Miles Teller is credibly vulnerable.

I also admire that “Rabbit Hole” isn’t necessarily about the little boy’s death—it’s about the reactions to it eight months after, and the recovery that can be developed at that point. With the exception of one (very brief) pushover, we don’t even get any flashbacks recalling the tragic incident. We just have Becca and Howie and their explorations of grief after it. That was a smart move, and the right approach to this material.

Not everything about “Rabbit Hole” works, though. For instance, I never really bought the grocery-store scene in which Becca confronts a nearby strict mother who won’t buy her kid Fruit Roll-Ups, despite his constant asking. The payoff to that scene just seemed quite forced to me. And it’s obvious to us that young, artistic Jason’s homemade comic book is supposed to symbolize the guilt he feels since that fateful day (it’s about parallel universes and what it’d be like for a character to experience a different personality within himself), but it’s not supposed to be revealing late in the film, which it is.

But everything else about “Rabbit Hole” works—the character interactions, the dealings/copings with grief, the story-framing, the acting, the writing, etc. Does it end pleasantly? Well, it depends on how you see it or what you get out of what led up to it. What I got out of it, without giving much away, was that it’s as redemptive as I would have liked to be, without being manipulative or dishonest. It worked for me.

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