Based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, Rabbit Hole tells the story of a married couple dealing with the loss of their son. During this horrific time, the couple each ventured into their own personal journeys with their marriage going into freefall. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell with the play’s creator writing the screenplay. The film explores grief and moving forward as it marks as a departure of sorts for the more radical and unconventional John Cameron Mitchell. Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh, Jon Tenney, Giancarlo Esposito, and Dianne Wiest. Rabbit Hole is a somber yet touching film from John Cameron Mitchell and company.
It’s another day for Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) as they stay at home not wanting to go to any parties or social gatherings. Though Becca later gets a call from her trouble-making sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) who got arrested for assaulting a woman at a bar. The big news is that Izzy is pregnant with that woman’s ex-boyfriend named Auggie (Giancarlo Esposito). Still, it’s another thing Becca has to deal with as she and Howie are still dealing with the death of their 4-year old son Danny (Phoenix List). The grief has led to a lack of communication for the two as they try to deal with it through group meetings led by Kevin (Stephen Mailer) and Gabby (Sandra Oh).
Unfortunately, Becca chooses to leave following a couple’s discussion about their own way in dealing with grief as she is trying to move forward. Still, offering to give Danny’s clothes to Izzy and trying to get back to work as an executive hasn’t done anything. During Izzy’s birthday party that is attended by their mother Nat (Dianne Wiest) who wants to give Becca some advice. Becca isn’t interested as she and Howie are unable to really talk to each other as he goes to group and continue working. Instead, she follows a teenage boy named Jason (Miles Teller) which eventually led to the two finally talking about what happened.
Meanwhile, Howie begins to befriend Gabby during group meetings as a way to deal with his own grief after learning that Becca had deleted a video in his iPhone despite her claims it was an accident. Even as he learns why Kevin hasn’t been showing up in meetings. Following the decision to sell the house, Jason makes an unexpected appearance leading to more drama between Howie and Becca. Even as the two ponder what are they doing for themselves and what is next for them.
The film is essentially about a couple trying to deal with grief and how they react to the death of their 4-year old son through a car accident. Yet, the film’s writer and original playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is more concerned about the way this couple reacts not just to the things around them but how they’re dealing with the loss they’ve suffered. For Howie, it’s all about watching a video on his iPhone, trying to work, and go to group meetings to just try and move on. Becca however, has a much harder time as she seems cold, angry, and not wanting to move on as her attempts don’t work. Instead, she turns to a teenage boy with a strange fascination with science as he writes a comic book.
The story does start off slow since it was deliberate so that audience can understand how characters behave when they’re dealing with grief. Even as it becomes clear that it’s not an easy thing to go through where Becca is annoyed by her group meeting because a couple talks about angels. For Howie, Becca’s behavior becomes embarrassing as he would later embarrass himself at a meeting through a different form of behavior. Even as they would both go into their own individual journeys to find some form of comfort or someone they can talk to. For Becca, it’s Jason and for Howie, it’s Gabby.
Director John Cameron Mitchell’s approach to the storytelling is definitely very intimate but also in a very theatrical setting. Shot on location in cities near New York City, Mitchell’s approach was to broaden the play by setting it in a small-town, suburban world while maintaining its focus on the characters. Even as he creates broad yet straightforward compositions to the way characters interact while being subjective in scenes where the camera is at the group meeting as an attendee.
One of Mitchell’s most notable moments as a director is the way he presents the scene where the moment of Danny’s death happens. It’s in a stylized approach but presented not in a sensationalized nor graphic presentation. It’s also in how it inter-cuts with the moments that Becca and Howie are having individually. It’s clear that Mitchell is becoming more confident and refined as a director. Even in the way he just lets the acting do the talking without over-playing or under-playing scenes. Even in finding some semblance of humor for the film as he reveals that when it comes to grief. There are no easy answers as it’s tough to get through and eventually, they move on. Overall, it’s Mitchell at his most mature as he is becoming one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.
Cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco does excellent work with the film‘s lush, springtime look of the film with its green grasses and trees along with bluish shots for some of the film‘s exterior evening scenes. For the interior scenes at night, there’s a wonderful dark-yellow look that plays to the somber tone of the film. Editor Joe Klotz does some fantastic work with the film’s methodical yet straightforward editing. Even in creating some rhythmic cuts for the film’s intense, dramatic moments along with the flashback montage of Danny’s death.
Production designer Kalina Ivanov, along with set decorator Diana Salzburg and art director Ola Maslik, does an amazing job with the film‘s look for the home of Becca and Howie with its upper-middle class look and feel along with Danny‘s room. Even the artwork such as Jason’s comic book is a real highlight of the film since it does play to what Becca’s character is looking for. Costume designer Ann Roth does a real good job with the costumes from the street-like, youthful clothing that Becca’s sister Izzy and her boyfriend Auggie wears to the more casual, clothing that Howie and Becca wears.
Sound editor Benjamin Cheah does some good work with the sound work from the atmosphere of the bowling alley for Izzy‘s birthday to the intimate scenes of the park and group meetings. Music composer Anton Sanko does a wonderful job with the film’s plaintive yet somber score with soft strings and a piano. Notably with some melancholic tracks to play to the dramatic tone along with music from Al Green, David Soul, and others played quietly throughout the film.
The casting by Sig De Miguel and Stephen Vincent is magnificent as it’s definitely one of the film’s highlights. Notably with appearances from Jon Tenney as a friend/co-worker of Howie, Patricia Kalember as a neighbor, Jay Wilkison as a former co-worker of Becca, Phoenix List in flashback appearances as the late child Danny, and in the varied roles of the group meeting attendees, Rob Campbell, Yetta Gottesman, Colin Mitchell, and Deidre Goodwin. Stephen Mailer is pretty good as Gabby’s husband and group leader Kevin while Giancarlo Esposito is excellent as the lively, fun Auggie. Tammy Blanchard is wonderful as Becca’s brash though grateful sister Izzy who finds herself at the wrong places in the wrong time whenever her sister acts out.
Dianne Wiest is great as Becca’s mother Nat who tries to give Becca some advice while saying some strange things as Weist really brings humor and depth to a character that understands grief. Sandra Oh is superb as Gabby, a mother in mourning who becomes friends with Howie as she is revealing to be in pain for something other than the loss of her child. Oh brings some needed humor to the film as she displays the things people need when they want to get back into the real world with such a calm, carefree performance. The film’s biggest surprise is newcomer Miles Teller as Jason, a young teenage boy who is traumatized for what he’s done while becoming a companion for Becca’s own personal journey. Teller’s quiet yet mesmerizing performance is definitely one of amazement as the chemistry he has with Nicole Kidman is fascinating where he manages to be equals with her.
Aaron Eckhart delivers what is definitely his best performance to date as Howie. Eckhart plays a man who is trying to move on and attend group meetings while wanting the memories of his son around him. Yet, when he sees that those reminders are being removed and has a hard time trying to move on. It’s a remarkable role for Eckhart who often plays creeps or crazy men as he allows himself to be vulnerable and sympathetic.
Finally, there’s Nicole Kidman in what is definitely her best role since Lars von Trier’s 2003 film Dogville. After a period of some uninspired roles in mainstream films to vanity-driven performances in art-house projects. Kidman returns to form as a grieving mother trying to move forward while wanting to get rid of the pain she’s feeling. It’s a raw performance from Kidman where at times, she acts like a bitch and lash out at people. Then, there’s the quiet moments where she doesn’t go into theatrics and just be calm. Particularly her scenes with Miles Teller that really shows Kidman at her best. Overall, it’s a film that reminds audience why Nicole Kidman is a great actress.
Rabbit Hole is a haunting yet intriguing film from John Cameron Mitchell that is led by fantastic performances from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. Fans of Mitchell’s work will find this to be his most conventional and least radical work of his career. Still, it is also his most mature work to date as he is refining his work as a director. Audiences looking for a drama that deals with grief will find this film as something more realistic and engaging though it does start off slow. In the end, Rabbit Hole is a superb and mesmerizing drama from John Cameron Mitchell.
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