After the gender-bending rock-and-roll fantasy "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and the sex-centric provocation "Shortbus," director John Cameron Mitchell embraces restrained realism in "Rabbit Hole," an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer-winning play.
A portrait of one couple's grief at a decisive moment, the movie begins eight months after Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) have lost their only child, a 4-year-old boy. Privileged people sharing a beautiful home, the two have tried to regain normalcy with varying degrees of success.
At least at first, Howie's mourning process seems smoother than his wife's: He embraces group therapy while she mocks it and eventually leaves; though he wants to restore their sexual relationship, she can't bring herself to try.
Viewers of a certain mindset might be tempted to condemn Becca's retreat from all kinds of intimacy, to believe she just isn't trying hard enough to deal with the people who love her - including a mother, played poignantly by Dianne Wiest, who stumbles in attempts at consolation.
But the playwright and director slowly make that a difficult stance to defend, suggesting that behavior that initially seems deranged - Becca's stalking a teenage boy she sees one day for reasons that aren't immediately clear - might be pointing her toward a relationship that helps her cope with what has happened.
It's certainly a friendship less threatening to the marriage than the one that tempts Howie when he feels Becca pulling further away from him. And isn't his insistence on keeping a toddler's safety seat in his car a sign that he's not as close to normalcy (whatever that means, after the unthinkable) as he appears?
While Eckhart and Kidman both shine here, the story's dynamics offer her the bigger challenge. Her performance is stunning: Even more than usual, one marvels at how much emotional depth can be conjured behind that famously masklike face.
Though "Rabbit Hole" can be grueling, it doesn't indulge in melodrama or milk confrontations another movie might turn into weepy explosions. It contains just enough friction to make viewers uncertain: Are we watching as grief destroys a marriage or as a marriage endures disaster? Happily, the storytellers envision loss and recovery on a much broader canvas than most pop psychology and the fictions typically inspired by it.
Our grade: A
Running Time: 91 min
MPAA rating: PG-13
Release Date: Jan 14, 2010
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Credit: DeKalb County District Attorney's Office