By Admin | December 23, 2010

As a parent and a person who’s had very close friends deal with the tragic loss of a child, I figured “Rabbit Hole” would be the kind of movie that would rock my soul by the time the end credits rolled. With tense subject matter, a lively director (John Cameron Mitchell) and an outstanding cast featuring Aaron Eckhart, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Oh and Dianne Wiest, how could it fail? I’ve been asking myself that very question since I viewed the film and I’m still not sure I have an answer. I certainly didn’t hate the film, but the level of ambivalence I feel toward it has left me baffled and disappointed and my ultimate feeling is that the film lacks a soul. I’m all for characters in film being cold or distant, but at some point there has to be a thaw that allows you to experience catharsis and “Rabbit Hole” provided neither of these things for me.

As mentioned, Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman play Becca and Howie, parents who have been living the past eight months in the wake of the sudden death of their young son. They attend counseling sessions that give Howie some perspective and solace but it’s immediately clear Becca hasn’t even scratched the surface in regards to her deepest feelings on the loss. She’s cold, quiet and angry and when she finally bursts to show some emotion, it’s generally pretty inappropriate. All these things make the tension steaming beneath the surface of their relationship palpable. Yet aside from relating (or, trying to relate to) the enormous pain of losing a child, I really felt nothing for Becca and Howie and, as such, “Rabbit Hole” became an exercise in watching a pot of water reach a boil.

The only character that really sold this film for me was Jason, played by Miles Teller. He’s a damaged young man who’s forced into an intimate relationship with Becca and Howie and he’s also an artist who’s designing a comic book based on parallel universes. The artwork is incredible and the idea that people, especially those living in pain and misery, might have a better life in a parallel universe, is a very cool conceit that is absolutely not followed through on in the film until the very last scene. As much as I hate saying what I wish was in a film rather than focusing actually is present, I wish the one emotional crutch I found to lean on in the film had been paid more attention. Supporting characters played by Dianne Wiest as Becca’s mother Nat and Sandra Oh as a fellow loss group member add much needed perspective to the main characters but it’s Teller as Jason who is the emotional bedrock of an otherwise sad and chilly film.

I will say I was really, really impressed by how great the film looks. It was directed by John Cameron Mitchell and this is clearly his step-up to the big boys table of directors. I was also pleased that the film never felt particularly stagy, which frequently happens when you adapt a film from a stage play. But for as great as the film looks, I have to think Mitchell’s inability to draw real emotion or better performances that allow you into the characters’ lives rather than pushing you away is the other major flaw here. No one plays the closed off, frigid and emotionally debilitated better than Nicole Kidman, and she does it to perfection frequently in films like “Birth” and “Eyes Wide Shut,” but here Kidman’s delicate touches of frailty are simply nonexistent and as such she comes off as kind of bitchy and pathetic rather than damaged and in need of an emotional breakthrough. I wanted to be involved with these characters and maybe even lightly touch the pain of the experience they’re having, after all don’t we go to movies wanting to have an emotional experience? But in the end all I wanted was to be away from everyone onscreen until they could figure their s**t out and even then, I’m not sure I’d want to know how they’re doing.

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  1. ShortArmSalute says:

    Have not seen Rabbit Hole yet. From the review, it sounds like a further exploration of JCM’s themes of separation/loss and the search for what it takes to be as whole again as possible. Hedwig is one of my all timers. Shortbus, not so much. However, I really would love to see JCM succeed and go A-list.

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