Rabbit Hole ****
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
Written By: David Lindsay-Abaire based on his play.
Starring: Nicole Kidman (Becca Corbett), Aaron Eckhart (Howie Corbett), Tammy Blanchard (Izzie), Miles Teller (Jason), Sandra Oh (Gabby), Dianne Wiest (Nat), Jon Tenney (Rick), Giancarlo Esposito (Auggie).
The problem with adapting plays to the screen, is that often the result simply feels like a photographed play, instead of a movie in its own right. What works on stage, may not work on the screen as well. But Rabbit Hole, adapted from David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play sidesteps that problem. For one thing, Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay as well, as expands on the material, and makes it more cinematic. For another, director John Cameron Mitchell, does a brilliant job of freeing up the play, so that we can barely see its roots in the theater. This is a movie that feels like a movie, and not like a play at all.
The movie stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as Becca and Howie Corbett, who eight months ago lost their four year old son in an accident right outside their big, suburban home. They are still struggling with the loss, and everywhere they turn, they see reminders of what used to be. They have tried everything to deal with their grief – even going to a support group for parents who have lost their children, but Becca mocks the group and its members, and cannot believe that anyone – including Howie – can truly understand what she is going through.
So instead of working through things together, they try their best to work through things on their own. Howie continues to go to the support groups, and befriends Gabby (Sandra Oh), a mother whose child died eight years ago, and she still comes to the group every week. Their relationship starts out cool, but gradually builds – until it threatens to become something more intimate. Meanwhile Becca starts seeing Jason (Miles Teller), the teenage boy who killed their son with his car. It wasn’t really his fault – the young boy darted in front of his car, and he didn’t have time to dodge him – but he too is stricken with grief. It doesn’t help Becca that her younger sister Izzie (Tammy Blanchard), who still refuses to grow up, has just found out she was pregnant, while their spaced out mother (Dianne Wiest) compares what she is going through to what she went though when her son died – even though he was a 30 year heroin addict.
The film is necessarily dark, given its subject matter, but is also filled with tremendous black comedy as well. From Becca insulting the religious nuts at the support group, to Howie and Gabby’s laughing fit at another meeting because they are stoned, the film is filled with razor sharp wit. The key to the movie is the performances, all of which hit just the right notes. Kidman hasn’t been this good in years, making Becca into an alternately fragile yet bitchy woman, who could just as easily go on a crying jag, or cut you down with an insult. Eckhart turns Howie into a man who is simply struggling – trying to remain strong despite impossible odds, but gradually revealing his own broken heart. Wiest is wonderful as their mother – who seems spacey and needy, but it really much stronger than we initially give her credit for. Blanchard turns Izzie into a sympathetic woman, even though to a certain extent she is an immature brat. Oh has a few great scenes as a woman who simply does not know how to move on. And finally newcomer Teller delivers a great performance as the kid who didn’t deserve this to happen to him, but doesn’t try to paint himself as a victim – but just tries to move on with his life.
It shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that the film was directed by John Cameron Mitchell, even though this is about as far removed from his first two films – Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus – as could be possible. After all, he has experience in stage to screen adaptations with Hedwig, and although both of those films were much more flamboyant for lack of a better word than Rabbit Hole is – they also both saw deeper into its characters than most movies. Behind Hedwig’s flashy clothes and musical numbers, and behind all that sex in Shortbus, both films are really about characters trying desperately to connect – reaching out to others for help. And that is what Rabbit Hole is about as well. Becca and Howie are drowning in their own grief when Rabbit Hole opens, and even though nothing has really been solved by the end, we get the feeling that they may be strong enough, and may finally be in a position to truly trust each other, that they may be able to pull themselves out of the mess they are in, For all the darkness in Rabbit Hole, there is also a glimmer of hope.