Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on a play by: David Lindsay-Abaire
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard
Duration: 91 min
BBFC Certification: 12
I’ve been putting off watching this for a while. I was sent a screener to review back in May and I planned on reviewing it before it’s release date on 20th June, but I just couldn’t get myself in the mood – it sounded so depressing. In the lead up to my honeymoon and the wedding of a friend of mine (which both attributed to my delay) the last thing I wanted to watch was the disintegration of a marriage following the death of their child. I needn’t have worried though as a) it wasn’t quite as miserable as I expected and b) it’s really rather good.
I’ve pretty much explained the plot above in half a sentence. It’s a relatively sparse film that takes a look at the impact the loss of a child has on a married couple, opening 8 months after the accident happened. The husband and wife (Aaron Eckhart & Nicole Kidman) have very different approaches to dealing with the grief and their relationship wears thin. The wife, Becca, shuts herself off at first, reacting icily to any attempts of help, until she comes across someone from her most painful past that she develops an unusual bond with. The husband, Howie, seems more adjusted on the surface and spends his evenings at a focus-group, but refuses to let go of any memories of his son and what happened.
It’s a relatively subtle affair that stems from a surprising writer/director team made up of writer David Lindsay-Abaire who’s previous work has included the not highly regarded children’s films Robots and Inkheart and director John Cameron Mitchell who’s previous films were comedy dramas filled with graphic sex and transexuals (Shortbus & Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Everything is kept small here and a lot of details are held off for the audience to only guess at until later on in the film. Such restraint is unheard of in most Hollywood dramas so it’s refreshing to see. The film does tie up a little tidily by the end and gets a tiny bit cheesy, but generally this is the sort of film that is usually reserved to the art-house crowd, not starring one of Hollywood’s leading actresses.
Saying that, one of the reasons I didn’t give the film a higher score was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that an art-house cast and crew could have done a slightly better job. As I watched the film I couldn’t help but think of The Three Colours: Blue, which deals with fairly similar subject matter with an extra level of skill and artistry that raises it above Rabbit Hole. Of course, thats a classic film that anything will struggle to live up to, but it just cast a bit of a shadow over the film for me. There are just a few moments that verge on being heavy-handed and a few elements are quite predictable too.
As I mentioned at the start, the film was less maudlin than I expected. It’s no laugh riot, don’t get me wrong, but there are a few lighthearted touches that break up the misery and in general I found it more fascinating than depressing. That’s another reason why it maybe didn’t really blow me away too. I think I kind of expected a draining and emotional experience, but what I got was something else. Not something bad, but not something as clearly powerful as I expected.
Despite these nagging feelings of minor disappointment, I did think the film was very good though. Nicole Kidman’s performance is strong, not overly showy as some reviewers had suggested. She is highly unlikeable at the start of the film, but as her character opens up I warmed to her and this transformation is smoothly handled. Aaron Eckhart deserves a lot more credit than he gets though. He shares a similar percentage of the running time and does a stirling job, holding back the grief nicely so that it’s only hinted at under the surface, yet his performance didn’t earn anywhere near as much praise as Kidman’s did.
Overall it’s a solid, refreshingly low-key drama that is always engaging. I felt it could have been handled slightly better at times, but generally this is touching adult cinema, the likes of which don’t nearly get made often enough, especially in Hollywood (or at least with a Hollywood cast).
Rabbit Hole is out now on DVD in the UK, released by Metrodome. The press release states that it will include cast and crew interviews as well as behind the scenes featurettes, but my screener didn’t contain any of these to comment on.