Feb 17, 2011

Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman is great in this movie, as are all the actors (Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller). Many people think that Kidman and other impossibly gorgeous women, like la Jolie, are not good actresses. This is a myth. Kidman is very good. Her celebrity persona notwithstanding, when she is on the screen, she holds your attention with vast reserves of feeling. She is a movie star who can act. The lip problem is a different story. She may have been nominated for her work here, besides her obvious acting chops, for the sheer fact that she let herself be unflatteringly photographed in several scenes. Her new lips are hugely distracting. Her formerly exquisite features, as we all know by now, have been through some extensive renovations that have not improved them. One grieves for the characters in the movie as ruefully as one does for what happened to her face.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell from a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is an exploration of the unbearable loss of a young child, and what I liked best is the way it is written (screenplay by Lindsay-Abaire). How do people deal with loss? As Lindsay-Abaire knows, with profound sadness, anger, resentment, bewilderment and a dark sense of humor. There are some wonderfully observed heartbreaking moments that  ring totally true and others that seem slightly contrived and melodramatic, but in general the material avoids slipping into bathos. Mitchell's direction is mostly finely calibrated and very sensitive towards the characters. It gives the actors plenty of room to explore deep and conflicting emotions. I was very impressed with young Miles Teller, who has a number of scenes with La Kidman in which he more than holds his own. He and Diane Wiest could be contenders for best supporting actors, as is the always fantastic Sandra Oh, a woman who seems incapable of hitting a false note.
But there is something about the film that doesn't seem to jell. 
At one point it looked to me like the movie was sloppily shot, but I think that it is being screened at the wrong ratio at the Sunshine. The movie is larger than the screen, so in some shots the frame seems totally off balance. Having said this, Mitchell relies too much on coverage (shooting a conversation from the point of view of each character) and the staging seems a little stiff. I was hoping to see more scenes with two characters sharing the frame, instead of all that back and forth with close ups. The symbolic conceit of the rabbit hole is lost in part because of the very conventional, dare I say pedestrian, staging of the film. Obviously, an intimate story like this does not require visual pyrotechnics, but a little visual elan would have helped. However, Mitchell gets a lot of credit for nailing some very emotional scenes in a fresh, realistic way. What makes Rabbit Hole different from any tearjerker of the week is that it challenges the conventions of people who suffer on screen: the characters here are not saints or martyrs, nor is the deck too obviously stacked against them (as is the case in Biutiful). They are regular, grieving humans with wildly different, inappropriate, selfish, and confusing reactions at their loss. Some scenes feel absolutely emotionally raw: a screaming match between Kidman and Eckhart; an astounding moment where Kidman dissolves in tears at an unexpected sight that is all the more true for being almost random and deeply devastating; the not always soothing dynamics of bereavement support groups. All is handled with great intelligence and care. There are, however, several scenes that break this spell of reality and remind us of the artifice of drama: a mother-daughter confrontation at a birthday party in a bowling alley, for instance, feels a little forced. It's a very tough balance, but the movie is poignant and heartfelt without being sentimental. You will tear up, but with good reason. Which is always a plus.

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