Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½
It takes a lot to ask an audience to sit through a "dead child" movie, but Rabbit Hole avoids showing the buildup and actual death of the child; it begins more rationally about eight months after the car accident. Now, heartbroken parents Becca (an Oscar-nominated Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) try as hard as they can, every day, to exist. The normally more subversive director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) delivers this grim material with a certain amount of grace, and the best I can say for it is that he makes the film often quite compelling.
Howie likes going to his group therapy meetings, shared with other parents that have lost children, even though the majority of them spend too much time talking about God. Becca gets fed up with these meetings, but Howie keeps going and forms a small bond with Gaby (Sandra Oh), a longtime veteran of the group. Meanwhile, Becca -- who quit her job to be a full-time mother -- has a much harder time being in the house, and looking at the myriad of reminders. One day, she spots the teenage driver, Jason (newcomer Miles Teller), who accidentally struck and killed her boy. She gets the idea to follow him and speak to him... not to blame him, but just to find some kind of connection.
The title Rabbit Hole comes from a comic book Jason has drawn about alternate realities. There's a striking image of "rabbit holes," where different things happen to people, with different outcomes. Becca says she likes the idea that somewhere, in some alternate universe, she could be happy. It's just disappointing that the film, which is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, doesn't make more of this sub-theme. One sequence frantically crosses Becca and Jason, while Howie drives to Gaby's house, but the two sequences don't really match or juxtapose one another. Howie's world is too straightforward for such things as alternate realities and the film sticks more to that perspective.
But Eckhart and Kidman do excellent work here, forming a genuine emotional relationship, and a heartrending push-and-pull as they try to deal with their inhumane, excruciating, indescribable circumstances. It also helps to have the always reliable, relatable Dianne Wiest along Becca's mom. She also lost a son, an adult drug addict, but the pain is the same, she explains. More than anything, this is an actor's movie, and -- as a good actor himself -- writer-director Mitchell understands and appreciates them, giving them every opportunity to shine. Even if the bigger themes don't all add up, its the performers who make Rabbit Hole very worthy.
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