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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 3.33%
Average: 3.33%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 3.33%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Rabbit Hole
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by Jay Seaver

"A film about grief with that still holds out hope."
5 stars

"Rabbit Hole" could easily be the most miserable movie a person could imagine; plenty of movies with the same subject matter have been unrelentingly grim. The beauty of this one is that it is about coping with loss, rather than just displaying the suffering. It's not a happy film, but in attempting to get its characters to "bearable", it manages to be excellent.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are a nice young couple who used to be a nice young family. Their son Dan died in an accident eight months ago, and their instincts for dealing with it are different. Howie watches a video stored on his phone again and again, while Becca feels oppressed by all the reminders of what she's missing. They go to a support group with other couples like Gaby (Sandra Oh) and Kevin (Stephen Mailer), but Becca can't stand them. Her mother (Dianne Wiest) only makes things worse with her good-intentioned attempts to help. And then Becca's less-responsible sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) announces she's pregnant.

Rabbit Hole is a movie of little moments, the best of which allow the people in the audience to empathize, either by calling forth things from their own individual experience or just having the ring of truth, while also guiding them. For instance, in an early scene, when Gaby and Kevin mention that they've been coming to this group for eight years, there's a little flash of horror between Becca and Howie. It's despairing and sad but it also gives us a reassuring baseline for the main characters, that they don't want to become defined by their grief; it's an honest reaction that the audience can hold on to when things get darker later. And, it's a little bit funny. Not disrespectfully so, but just enough to mix with the fear and depression and say that human emotions are complicated, and the not-obvious ones are going to be present and legitimate.

Director John Cameron Mitchell and writer David Lindsay-Abaire do an excellent job of piecing them together. Though the film has its origins in Lindsay-Abaire's stage play, it doesn't feel constricted or overly talky. Sometimes the characters' words do sound a little mannered, but that's fine here; it keeps what could be taken for otherwise unremarkable events from the outside have a little extra punch to them. Each scene has purpose and activity, but the direction in which the filmmakers are herding their audience and characters is not always obvious until they arrive. The comics that one character works on are a great way to break up early, disconnected scenes, but when it's time to shift gears to a more structured second half, Mitchell and editor Joe Klotz handle the transition with aplomb.

That happens during perhaps the loudest scene of the movie, and while that's a striking moment, the best work the cast does is often in quieter spots. Nicole Kidman, for instance, is brilliant, because her Becca often seems so reasonable, but there's a viciousness and anger in her that's just ready to explode at all times. Becca is a fascinating character, far more open to forgiveness than one might initially expect, but there's more than a hint of snob to her as well, and she will get out the really sharp knives for people who really don't deserve them when pushed an inch too far. It's rare to see a character who is simultaneously so warm and so cold sustain that balance over the entire length of a film like this, and Kidman doesn't ever miss a beat.

Aaron Eckhart is just as good; Howie is more openly and conventionally demonstrative than Becca is, although doing what one is supposed to do doesn't seem to be helping him much at all. His explosions are perfect, especially since until they happen, we're not really aware of just how well Eckhart has done in showing us a man both trying to do the right thing and trying to appear to be doing the right thing. It's a performance that perhaps doesn't dazzle and fascinate like Kidman's; instead of sharp edges, it's got invisible seams that allow for surprising reconfiguration.

Also fantastic is the supporting cast; a person can run down the list of co-stars before finding someone who turns in a less-than-note-perfect job. Dianne Wiest, for instance, is excellent; she makes her Nat equal parts embarrassing and understanding, almost inevitably on a course to spar with Becca. She's able to give the part nuance because she's never really the right or wrong side in an argument, and she makes a long speech a sort of stumbling, inarticulate outpouring of wisdom. Tammy Blanchard is utterly believable as Izzy; it's easy to see the bond between her and Becca even though they clearly don't think the same way at all. Even smaller parts like Giancarlo Esposito as Izzy's new boyfriend and Jon Tenney as Howie's best friend have the ring of truth. And Miles Teller is wonderful as a teenager both desperately guilty to still be alive (the way his Jason seems to grasp at straws to give Becca a reason to blame him in one scene is a little heartbreaking) as well as a constant reminder of how Becca and Howie have lost not just who their son was, but who he could have become.

It's all potentially crushing but never actually so; Mitchell and his cast are able to put a light at the end of the tunnel without making the darkness less real. It's a rare and perfectly balanced film, not a feel-good movie by any means but not one with any interest in wallowing in misery.

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originally posted: 12/31/10 17:36:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/04/15 David Hollingsworth Depressing, painful, but incredibly powerful. 5 stars
4/13/15 Trev29 lol 1 stars
12/05/11 Pamela White One for the dr's couch great for grieving people 4 stars
9/11/11 Dorothy Rozdilsky Didn't understand, not a film I would recomend 2 stars
1/16/11 Ming Good performance from all the characters, but is too painful to watch 3 stars
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  17-Dec-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2011


  DVD: 19-Apr-2011

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