' ' Cinema Romantico: Rabbit Hole

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rabbit Hole

You wanna talk some writing?  Good.  Let's talk some writing.  Early on in "Rabbit Hole", adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own stage play, our main character Becca (Nicole Kidman - Oscar Nomination, please!) receives a late night phone call. She goes down to the jail to bail this younger girl, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), out. So, who is this girl? You probably have a guess. I have a guess. But the movie eases us into a natural, if uncomfortable, rhythm between the two and then in a later scene has one of them address their "mom" in an extremely unforced way and so now we know. Izzy is Becca's sister.

Now if you've seen the preview for "Rabbit Hole" you know exactly what it's about but if you haven't seen the preview the screenplay delicately unravels its intentions. Again, you probably have a guess as to what it's about but the characters - who are now eight months into what it is they are dealing with - never clarify circumstances specifically for the audience's benefit. They speak precisely as they would at any given time. Lindsay-Abaire's refuses to let the characters spout expository dialogue they would never - under any circumstances - say solely as a means to set the viewer's table.

Okay, so with what are Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) dealing? It is the death of their 4 year old son Danny who chased his dog into the street and was hit by a car. Ugh. Not easy stuff. These are two characters who barely exist outside of their home, their home which is still stuffed full of the unseen presence of Danny.  Howie has a job and Becca used to have a job and they have friends, or used to have friends because now they rarely see anyone, but none of these things matter because the tragedy has wholly usurped their lives.  Their marriage, their wits, their relationships with others, it is all terribly strained. This material is ripe for ceaseless shouting matches between husband & wife, between daughter & mother (Dianne Weist), between sisters, but Lindsay-Abaire is so much more intelligent. Pay attention to how the script builds to its lone shouting match - between Becca & Howie - placed squarely in the film's middle and then recoils from it, never shouting again.

Pay attention to how conversations between Becca and Howie don't feel like pages ripped straight out of self help manuals but sound like two people dancing around critical issues, shutting down or ignoring when they actually hit on the real topic, and taking time-honored zings at one another that never come across false. "You're roping me in with Al Green?" Risky, too, is the issue of faith, addressed early in group therapy with other couples who have lost children when one father utilizes one of the Ten Most Overused Phrases In The English Language. "It's part of God's plan." Oy vey. Becca scoffs. She's done with the group. She doesn't like the God freaks. But....she winds up, by choice and by accident, reaching out to the young teen (Miles Teller) who unintentionally killed her son. These moments are perilously close to the Minefield Of Heavy-Handedness but avert blowing up with elegant ease. He never asks for forgiveness and she never pledges forgiveness but it is quite clear she is forgiving him without feeding that point to the audience like a bucket of slop. Becca may not be a "God freak" but it never fails to amaze me how many "God freaks" spend their time unforgivingly slinging mud. 

Despite the film's origin as a play, director John Cameron Mitchell never becomes desperate to remind everyone that this is a MOVIE by forcing in little bits of cinematic business or firing up the steadicam.  The various settings may feel suffocating, but they are never stagy.  And as much as I adore writing that doesn't mean I don't also adore directors who refrain from giving their actors any place to hide.  "Hey, guys, I'll get you in the proper places, you'll have some killer words to say, but this is your show.  Deliver."  Everyone does but, of course, Kidman as Becca is front and center and she does deliver, and she does so in one of the more ancient roles - Grieving Mother - by somehow finding humor and bitterness and confusion in equal, unmanipulative doses and undergoing a change but never having the easy-way-out "A Ha!  This Is The Meaning Of Life!" epiphany.

The material in "Rabbit Hole" is tough to take, of this there is no doubt, but the execution of it all is supremely easy to watch.  This is one of the very best movies of 2010.


Andrew K. said...

This may be a bit forward, don't be freaked out, but I think I love you for this review :)

Rabbit Hole is good all-round but really it's the writing that's absolutely essential to its success and that's why I *still* can't believe it's being collectively ignored by all. Ah well, still one of the best of the year.

Nick Prigge said...

I'm not freaked out. At least, I don't think I'm freaked out. I'm pretty sure, anyway, that I'm not freaked out.

I read your review of it and so I knew you liked it and, yeah, I'm definitely on your side with this one. It makes no sense to me why this is being ignored here during award season. I guess it just never got that "buzz" going. So unfortunate.

Sam Turner said...

I can only echo, in a way, (belatedly) Andrew's comments: this is simply one of the best pieces of film writing I have read (by no means an isolated occurrence on your site) and your praise of the film is entirely accurate.

I'm not a huge awards junky (in fact, largely, I can't stand them) and this is exactly why: this should have featured in countless end-of-year polls and nominations. Why didn't it? Because it didn't have 'the buzz'? Not a valid critique of a film, and a very sad state of affairs when it comes to awarding something with the label 'best'.

That aside, you're very right to single out the script. The refusal to resort to exposition - or even feel the need to complete a conversation - is amazing. The fact that the director shows a character doing something they know to be wrong (Eckhart staying on for the tour of the house) and then realising it was the wrong decision is just brilliant.

I really quite loved this film and that in itself, when you consider how difficult the subject matter is, shows how well made it was.

Nick Prigge said...

Thank you, my friend. That is far, far too kind.

This is why I was just so happy to read your review of it and find someone else giving it such high praise. It's so deserving. Awards or not, it can take great comfort in its own quality.