Movie Review: Rabbit Hole
The Charlotte Observer
If I tell you “Rabbit Hole” is about a 40-ish wife who seeks comfort from a younger man and a husband tempted by a woman in his therapy group, you might think, “Oh, another death-of-a-marriage movie.”
And this quietly intense adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s quietly intense play is, in part, about a marriage on the brink of collapse. But the heartbreak in it comes from the accidental death of a son.
We meet Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) eight months after their 4-year-old was run over by Jason (Miles Teller), a conscience-stricken high school senior. (The child burst into the road after a dog, and Jason wasn’t to blame in any way.)
Intimacy of all kinds has stopped for Becca and Howie. He deals with grief by going about his daily life and treasuring memories of Danny; she copes by eliminating traces of Danny around the house, consciously and subconsciously, and treating her sister (Tammy Blanchard) and mother (Dianne Wiest) to bursts of grief and sarcasm.
Becca sees Jason coming home from school one day and engineers a meeting. She can afford to be open and calm with him, because he doesn’t judge her or expect anything from her. He’s grateful that she’s not angry and slowly shares a sense of guilt.
Howie, meanwhile, feels drawn to the friendly Gabby (Sandra Oh), but that relationship is an afterthought in Lindsay-Abaire’s screenplay: This is meant to be Becca’s movie, and we don’t hear much about Howie’s needs.
Though the movie takes us to new locations, it keeps the emotional kernel of the play intact. Like the play, the film is a bit short to trace a long emotional arc; it drops us into the middle of mourning with little back story. (We never find out what Howie does for a living, and we get only a couple of sentences about the job Becca quit to raise her child.)
Jason and Becca seem awfully comfortable for people meeting for the first time after a vehicular death. As he shares his concept of “rabbit holes” – entrances to alternate universes where our “other” selves are guilt-free – dialogue that could be heart-breaking is simply touching.
The chameleonic Eckhart is adaptable to any situation, though there are no surprises in his character or his performance. Teller makes an auspicious, softly impressive feature debut. Wiest, a double Oscar-winner who never had the career she deserved, is riveting as a mother whose own sorrow makes her impervious to Becca’s mood swings.
Kidman has gotten accolades for a character that suits her acting strengths: repression of feelings, chilly intelligence, a suggestion that she might crack into bits if she let herself thaw emotionally.
Director John Cameron Mitchell, hitherto known for the outrageous, sexually flamboyant “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus,” is the one unexpected element.
Mitchell keeps the direction simple and well-behaved, usually just pointing the camera at the speaker, but you can see why this topic appealed to him: All three of his films are about people in pain reaching (or lashing) out in different ways, and you don’t have to scream to be suffering.