Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, John Cameron Mitchell’s terrific and moving Rabbit Hole checks in with parents Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart 8 months after they lost their 4-year-old son to a tragic accident. It’s that fuzzy time when the rest of the world has moved on and expects that the aggrieved have as well, but of course they haven’t. A support group for parents who’ve lost children has begun to feel like a crutch, or worse still a trap while old conflicts between Kidman and her family flare up and get in the way of genuine understanding. Inevitably, Kidman and Eckhart find different paths and different speeds to healing, which in turn dangerously frays the bonds of their marriage.
It’s all grist for a potentially self-serving actor’s showcase, but the scenario is handled with a truth and sensitivity that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered a great loss. On top of that, director Mitchell wisely emphasizes a certain irreverence to the handling of grief, almost a gallows humor at times, that humanizes the characters and eases the pall of despair that would otherwise threaten to suffocate the entire film.
Both stars are excellent, allowing their characters to be flawed yet still relatable and sympathetic. Neither is forced to be the villain. Kidman can be a prickly actress, but here she displays a warmth and a vulnerability behind her character’s natural reserve that makes her easy to empathize with. The story mostly focuses on her character as she reaches out to the young man who was involved in the accident that took her son (a fine job by newcomer Miles Teller soon to be seen in the Footloose remake), but Eckhart also has his moments to shine as he in turn connects with one of the women in the support group (Sandra Oh). Dianne Wiest is wonderful as always as Kidman’s mother, so much so that it’s regrettable she didn’t have more screen time. The same goes for Giancarlo Esposito who is on screen long enough to remind you how much you like him, but not long enough to really leave an impression.
Where Rabbit Hole threatens to run into trouble is in the translation from stage to screen. The dialogue has a precision and a specificity common to theater that doesn’t quite come off naturally. Though the action of the screenplay has been opened up considerably from what played on the stage, the words still have a preciousness to them as though they’re expected to carry the entire drama when they don’t have to. This is a tiny observation however, and not one that ultimately detracts from the power of the drama.
Another nitpick is the twinkly and at times oversensitive score, but again the quality of the material and of the performances overcome it easily.
Small flaws aside, Rabbit Hole is overall a deeply satisfying drama rooted in powerful material, perfectly executed by a strong cast and one of the best movies of the year.