A husband and wife deal with the death of their young child in Rabbit Hole, a masterful character study.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) lost their young son about eight months ago. Becca, formerly a stay-at-home mom and now just aimlessly at home, seems to have simply shut down. She has no patience for the couples’ support group she attends with Howie and is openly dismissive when one of them starts to talk about God. She gives away her son’s clothes, takes his drawings off the refrigerator and has even sent away the family dog.
Howie on the other hand seems always at the edge of tears. He wants to be in group, wants to talk about his son. He watches and rewatches a snippet of video of his son that he’s kept on his cell phone. He keeps his son’s car seat in his car.
But even as Becca and Howie seem to drift away from each other — Becca rejects his attempts to have sex and is openly hostile to talk of having another child — Howie insists that he loves his wife. He says this even when he finds himself hanging out and smoking pot with Gaby (Sandra Oh), another member of the support group. Does Becca feel the same? It’s less sure. Often fighting ith Howie, she’s also often at odds with her mother (Dianne Wiest) and recently pregnant younger sister (Tammy Blanchard), and the only person she seems to emotionally connect with is a teenage boy, Jason (Miles Teller), who is himself just barely holding it together.
These are all striking performances (seriously, Hollywood Foreign Press, Natalie Portman was better than this?). Kidman is heartbreaking as Becca — brittle and fragile — and is all the more interesting because she lets Becca be unlikable. Eckhart plays Howie as a more outwardly gentle and emotional guy, but there is a lake, an ocean, of anger under his sad surface. Wiest is also excellent — hers is an imperfect character who feels a deep grief about an earlier loss as well as sadness over the loss of her grandson and a mother’s sadness for her daughter. There is also, clearly, a difficult history between the women, and Kidman and Wiest are able to portray that as something always in the background but never the focus. Even Teller, whom I’ve never seen before, gives a nuanced performance.
Rabbit Hole is not a feel-good movie. But it is extremely watchable because it makes you care about these difficult characters. It never resorts to smarminess or melodrama, and it keeps the emotions raw without turning them into grief porn. Though I didn’t see it in time for my 2010 list, this is clearly one of the best movies of last year.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug use and language. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell and written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is an hour and 31 minutes long and distributed by Lionsgate.