John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) makes a quantum leap forward as the director of “Rabbit Hole,” an honest, vivid, and surprisingly humorous and upbeat family drama about the struggles of a happily married couple to come to terms with the loss of their only child.
The sharply observed, poignant tale was adapted for the screen by acclaimed playwright David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which I have not seen.
Swiftly directed and elegantly shot, “Rabbit Hole” features excellent performances from its entire cast, with Oscar-caliber turns from Nicole Kidman, who has not been so impressive and emotionally touching in years, and Diane Wiest, who plays her mother.
We have seen many films and TV movies about loss and mourning, but what makes this story different is a healthy, often ironic humor, which is manifest in the seemingly darkest moments.
The other element, which had not seen before in similar stories, is thepeculiarly intimate and complex relationship that Kidman’s protag, Becca, develops with the high-school student who’s responsible for the death of her son.
The essence of the drama is a detailed, almost step-by-step depiction of how Becca and Howie Corbett (Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) try to return to their “more normal” everyday existence in the wake of a shocking, sudden loss.
Just eight months ago, they were a happy—ideal–suburban family with everything they wanted. Now, they are caught in a maze of memory, longing, guilt, recrimination, sarcasm and tightly controlled rage from which they cannot and/or they are unable to escape.
The spouses take different approach to their loss and then embark on very different journeys in their way to recovery. As Becca finds pain in the familiar, Howie tries to finds comfort.
The shifts come in abrupt, unforeseen moments. Becca hesitantly opens up to her opinionated, loving mother (Dianne Wiest), who herself had lost a son, albeit he was a mature guy and drug-addict. Moreover, Becca secretly reaches out to the teenager (Miles Teller), a bright, sensitive kid, involved in the accident that had changed everything.
Meanwhile Howie lashes out and imagines solace with another woman (Sandra Oh), whom he had met in a therapy group and has become single and available, when her husband leaves her.
Yet, as off track as they are, the couple keeps trying to find their way back to a life that still holds the potential for stability and happiness. The resulting journeys offer intimate glimpses into two people, who are vastly different but clearly love each other, as they are learning how to re-engage with each other and a world that has been tilted off its axis.
“Rabbit Hole” shows a family as it faces a crisis that changes everything–everything except the fact that they are still a family, just as entangled by love, humor, anger, need, rivalry, blame and hope as they ever were.