There is no grief greater than that of burying a son or daughter, and so it is to the credit of all parties involved that "Rabbit Hole" is not simply a relentless downer, but a thoughtful, and at times even funny portrait of a couple trying to navigate that distinct brand grief.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are Becca and Howie Corbett, a pair of upper-class 30-somethings dealing in their own ways with the death of their son 4-year-old son Danny some months previous. Kidman goes all-in as Becca, brimming with rage, scoffing or barking at anyone who dares to suggest they know her pain.
Becca is paradoxically trying to erase every remaining scrap of her son from her life, while at the same time furiously planting flowers, reading homemaking magazines, baking all manner of pies, cakes, brownies… She’s nowhere near done being a mother, but wants desperately to put motherhood behind her.
Where Becca is angry, Howie is sad, eager to hold onto every piece of Danny he can, barely containing himself with each of Becca’s cleaning missions. Kidman keeps you at arm's length, while Eckhart (what this man has to do to become a star is anyone’s guess at this point) all but begs you to come in. And when their opposing agendas and approaches lead to the inevitable blow-up, what transpires is a clinic in onscreen rage.
Miles Teller makes a remarkable feature-film debut as Jason, the young man who has turned the Corbetts’ life upside-down. Sitting alongside Kidman, he manages to not just follow her lead. Jason is sad about the same thing but for obviously different reason, and Teller’s performance makes that clear.
John Cameron Mitchell, who couldn’t be making a much greater departure from his previous films, directed “Rabbit Hole.” In 2001 he adapted his own musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” about a transgender rock star obsessed with an ex-lover. Then there was “Shortbus” in 2006, a film loaded with very real, very explicit sex of multiple flavors that sought to explore the different ways in which our inhibitions cripple us.
Here again, Mitchell explores deep emotional pain, but does so in a language and world relatable to a far greater audience (read: heterosexuals) without missing a beat. His insight and humor are fully in evidence, and his eye for composition is better and more mature than ever.
David Lindsay Abaire does a masterful job of expanding his 2005 play, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, into a screenplay, weaving in more characters to give his protagonists greater context and depth. By expanding the story’s scope, Abaire is able to show that as bad as things are for Becca and Howie—and they are #%@*! awful—they could be doing a lot worse.
Anchored by Nicole Kidman’s best performance in years, “Rabbit Hole” is a deep well of sadness that lets you up for air just enough to give you hope.