Rabbit Hole - movie reviewBased on the Pulitzer-Prize-Winning play, Rabbit Hole is a study in suburban grief.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) are eight or so months into the aftermath of that most terrible of all incidents: the death of a young child.
Their lives consist of a plodding regularity - work, dinner, family visits, the occasional group therapy session - that isn't particularly comforting, but at least preserves some sense of normalcy.
Becca's immature younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) is pregnant, a fact she keeps from her older sibling as though afraid the very news will send her tumbling into an abyss that Izzy doesn't realise Becca is already quite deeply installed in.
Their mother Nat (the impeccable Dianne Wiest) doesn't help much by constantly trying to commune with Becca by bringing up the death of her son (Becca's brother). As Becca calmly yet ferociously informs her, there is nothing to compare - Danny was four years old, and her brother was 30 and a heroin addict.
A scene in which Becca finally allows Nat to discuss her grief, is exquisitely moving. They stand in the basement, staring at the detritus of the Corbett's former life: Danny's toys and clothes, neatly packed into a surprisingly small array of storage boxes. Such a huge part of the Corbett's world - in his life and death - is so easily compartmentalised. If only Becca and Howie could manage to do the same thing emotionally.
Director John Cameron Mitchell, working from a screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire based on his play, creates a world that is endlessly, quietly tense.
The smallest thing - a stepped-on seedling, a name, a phonecall, a birthday present - threatens to shatter the facade that is only just being maintained.
As Becca, Kidman is stunningly complex: brittle and glib in polite company, permanently on edge around her husband, and teetering on the brink of total meltdown in her private moments.
In one of the film's strongest scenes, Becca dresses smartly and visits her former workplace (Sotheby's), hoping to catch up with old friends. She is greeted coolly by a new receptionist who, one by one, informs Becca that nobody she has come to visit seemingly exists.
As panic slowly floods Becca's face, it feels - to the viewer, and perhaps to her - unclear if she ever worked there, and we are given some sense of the horrible mangling of time and reality that has occurred as grief has settled about the couple like a heavy, disorienting fog.
Mercifully, a former coffee boy turned auctioneer recognises her and rescues Becca from her unease. They make reassuring smalltalk for a while - her former workmates have simply jumped ship to a rival auctionhouse; "traitors" - but smalltalk leads to the inevitable and dreaded "How is your family?" and she leaves, flummoxed first emotionally, and secondly - in a moment of bittersweet irony - by the revolving door.
Her scenes with Jason (Miles Teller), the young man whose life was also changed when Danny died, have a delicate - if unnerving - beauty.
(Their conversations provide the film with its name - he has written a comic book called Rabbit Hole, a sort of Quantum Leap for teenagers about a boy trying to find his dead father in various parallel universes.)
Eckhart's Howie exists in the shadow of Kidman's impressive performance, and seems composed of far fewer shades of grey; he spends much of the film either keeping up appearances, or exploding into sudden grief-ridden rages.
His scenes with Gaby (Sandra Oh), a fellow group therapy attendee, have an easy, bittersweet humour to them that puts Howie and Becca's - or perhaps Kidman and Eckhart's - inability to relate into sharp relief.
But since we never met Danny, and don't really know Becca and Howie - apart from what we can glean from their affluent house and pretty, waterside suburb - it's difficult to feel any true connection to their plight, other than that The Death Of A Child is a universal signifier of horribleness.
We can see that we should care about the Corbett's situation, but do we?
The film is also held back from true greatness by an overwhelming visual blandness; it's possible that it was Mitchell and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco's decision to shoot it like a Vogue Entertaining advertorial, as if to some way visually represent the suffocating expectations of upper middle class life.
The score, too, by Anton Sanko, is cloying and televisual. Subject matter like Rabbit Hole's does not require the full John Williams treatment, but nor does it deserve the kind of middling acoustica you might hear in a group counselling waiting room.
Rabbit Hole is tender and sensitive where it counts, but also terminally tasteful. And there's nothing tasteful about grief.
Rabbit Hole opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, February 17.
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