Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review - Rabbit Hole

Based on the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner, Rabbit Hole is a film about the aftermath of disastrous personal loss. The film opens 8 months after Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) lose their 4-year-old son. Both are at their tattered ends; unsure how to live the rest of their lives. Both react differently. Howie dwells. He attends weekly group therapy sessions and urges the stubborn Becca to join him. He regularly replays a video of his son on his phone and goes wild when he learns Becca accidentally deleted it. Becca, on the other hand, does whatever she can to keep her mind from her loss. She gets rid of many of her son's belongings and even wants to sell her house because it reminds her too much of her son. Eventually Howie edges towards a possible fling with one of this therapy group's grieving mothers (Sandra Oh) and Becca develops a secret, strange, and tense friendship with Jason (Miles Teller) - the teenager who is partly responsible for her son's death.

The cast of Rabbit Hole is perfect and there isn't a single actor who doesn't invest fully in his/her role. While the entire cast is great, Kidman steals the show. She is magnificently believable as Becca. I can't say I've seen every Nicole Kidman film, but I find it tough to believe this isn't the role of her career thus far. Eckhart is deeply affecting as Howie and I hope we keep seeing great things from him. Again, I haven't seen every Eckhart project but I haven't been disappointed yet. I was surprised at how much I was impressed by Teller. I don't recall seeing him in anything and it's rare for an actor of his age to be able to evoke the kind of guilt and sadness we see in Jason without overdoing it.

Rabbit Hole is named after a comic book Jason makes about parallel universes and alternate realities. In the comic a mother, father, and son prove to have endless counterparts in different universes; in one reality the father is dead, in another the mother is dead, in yet another the son is dead, etc. While it may seem like pandering to say so, after watching the film I can't help but find some possibly unintentional irony here. Throughout the film, there are moments when you think you know where the film is heading, and where you think it's heading is a much more sensational or Hollywood place. For example, early in the film Becca becomes obsessed with a teenage boy she spots on a passing school bus. She follows the bus home, learns where the boy lives, and regularly parks her car outside the house to wait for him to be delivered home again. We are not initially shown why Becca cares about this boy, but I was immediately reminded of a movie (I forget the name, it may have even been a made-for-TV production) of a kidnapped child whose mother spots a teenage boy in her neighborhood many years after the kidnapping and the boy eventually proves to be her lost child. My assumption was Becca thought the boy was the spitting image of what her son would have looked like if he'd lived that long. I was completely wrong and it wasn't the only example. In other words, whether the filmmakers intended it or not, just as you can see the parallel universes in Jason's comic, you feel the presence of all the alternate ways Rabbit Hole's plot could have gone. Just like Becca says about her own alternate selves that "somewhere out there I'm having a good time," somewhere out there - in whatever alternate universes good movies become bad - a hundred different Beccas were having a good time in a hundred different crappy versions of Rabbit Hole; the kind that would be made if anyone with a Hollywood sensibility got anywhere near it.

One of the aspects of Rabbit Hole that intrigues me the most is something interesting going on in regards to class. Becca and Howie are clearly not hurting for money. They are, at least, upper-middle-class while Becca's sisters Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) is decidedly lower class. She's pregnant with her boyfriend's child and both are forced to live with Becca's mother. We first meet Izzy when Becca bails her out of jail for starting a bar fight with her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. Becca comments on how it's very "Jerry Springer" of her sister to have a fistfight over a man. It's a comment that becomes more than a little ironic as Izzy becomes an unwilling witness to the more well-to-do Becca and Howie getting a little "Jerry Springer" themselves. She's there when Becca and her mother get in an emotional shouting match at a bowling alley, when Howie learns that Becca has been talking to Jason and goes on a tirade that would be filled with plenty of editing bleeps if he were on Jerry Springer, and most fittingly Izzy's there when Becca hits a woman in a grocery store. I won't lie and say I know what, if anything, the filmmakers are saying about class. I don't think, and certainly don't hope, it's as simple as saying we're all potential Jerry Springer guests deep down inside (especially since I don't think anyone secretly paid Becca to hit that woman in the grocery store). I don't mean to make the film seem like an academic exercise, but it's there, it's interesting, and it's worth noting.

Rabbit Hole is, above all, a deeply honest film as stripped of Hollywood convention as you could get. There is hardly a single line of dialogue that doesn't feel precisely like something a person would actually say, and yet screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (also the author of the original play) never sacrifices poetry for authenticity. As conditioned by Hollywood as everyone else, I kept expecting to be preached to, to be shown which way of grieving was better than others, to eventually be delivered the epiphany that would kill the couple's overwhelming grief, and to end the hour and a half with a spiritual uplifting that would assure me that Becca and Howie were going to be a-okay in the end. I got none of the above. Rabbit Hole is not a movie to learn from - except in learning how to make great, emotionally genuine movies - but to experience.

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