Oftentimes the best performances come out of grief-stricken features that allow actors to show their emotional range and Rabbit Hole is no exception. Yet, the advantage this film has over films of a similar nature is the fact its characters aren’t typically prone to overreaction and melodrama. These characters feel real and so does their sadness and the way they go about trying to cope. Instead of their grief wearing on you, you want to reach out and give them a hug.
The story follows the lives of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), a couple that lost their son eight months earlier and are still adjusting to his absence. Becca can’t stand the “God talk” at group sessions and she’s angry and in denial over the whole ordeal. By contrast, Howie is still holding on, staying up late to watch old home videos on his iPhone and slowly losing connection to his wife as she has closed herself off and he only wants to open himself up. This is all typical stuff, but it’s the way director John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Inkheart), adapting his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, treat Becca and Howie’s grief that makes it so good. Not to mention the performances.
It’s been a while since Nicole Kidman actually impressed me in a movie and she’s never been a particular favorite of mine, but here she is a stunner. Kidman gives a real and honest performance and as a result Eckhart’s performance pales in comparison. Dianne Wiest also gives an impressive performance as Kidman’s occasionally naive, yet sympathetic mother, making both Kidman and Wiest serious lead and supporting Oscar contenders.
Everything else aside, the best aspect of this film is the fact you are never left to wallow in Becca and Howie’s grief as much as you feel like a friend hoping they can get passed it. The only time I ever felt the film lost its legs was during a shouting match between Becca and Howie, but I felt that was more as a result of Kidman almost embarrassing Eckhart as he has a hard time keeping up.
However, a film like this can’t help but be a little cliche, which is evident any time someone screams, “What do you want from me?” in a movie, even if the line is delivered with as much passion as Kidman brings to it. But the maturity of the piece helps it rise above any of its more banal moments. One such scene would be a late back-and-forth between Kidman and Wiest in which the two get over a previous argument and share a laugh. It plays like a quick glimpse into real life, a moment not often seen and perhaps one not remembered shortly thereafter, but on film it’s something that works because we can all relate.
The title is rather straightforward, alluding to the possibility of us having alter egos out there in parallel universes. When Kidman’s character grasps onto the concept in a moment of clarity she says, “It means somewhere out there I am having a good day,” and the no bull way in which she says it gets to the heart of the character and allows this film to be much more than just another melancholy tale of despair.
Rabbit Hole treats its characters and audience as human beings. There’s an understanding of the way people talk and the way people argue. People don’t always have the answer and they don’t always have to place the blame, but we do make assumptions and jump to conclusions when we are at our worst and are just as easily able to ask for and accept forgiveness, sometimes without even saying so. This film accomplishes all of that and for that it deserves respect and for Kidman and Wiest’s performances it deserves acclaim.