Rabbit Hole review

Rabbit Hole might have earned Nicole Kidman a deserved Oscar nomination. But there are more reasons than her performance alone to praise it, reckons Michael...

Unfortunately, Rabbit Hole is the kind of film that seems to get overlooked in the awards race. It is in the line of sharp, intelligent, and sincere character dramas that, in recent times, has been pigeon-holed, or simply ignored.

Think of Rachel Getting Married, or this year’s Blue Valentine, both of which are films that, when it came to the Academy Awards, were defined by a single performance (Anne Hathaway for the former, Michelle Williams for the latter), while the rest of the production, cast and crew were snubbed.

Rabbit Hole has been granted a similar fate, with Nicole Kidman receiving the brunt of the awards attention. It is highly unlikely that she’ll win, due in part to the quality of the competition, but also due to the lack of the awards-bait triumvirate of prosthetics, reality and tragedy that helped her to walk away with an Oscar for The Hours.

However, that this is the only recognition granted to Rabbit Hole is puzzling, as it is a superbly nuanced, finely crafted drama.

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Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole centres on a couple, Becca and Howie (Kidman, alongside Aaron Eckhart), who are haunted by the loss of their young son. Taking place months after the fact, it looks at the permanence of trauma, the ghosts that colour seemingly everyday life, and how the two adopt very different approaches to dealing with their grief. Becca shuts herself away from her social circle, making up alibis to avoid the neighbours, while Howie spends his days working, and his spare time playing squash with colleagues. They share an existence that, on the surface, may seem dull, but is fundamentally broken.

Director, John Cameron Mitchell, after the camp rock opera Hedwig And The Angry Inch and the quirky sex comedy, Shortbus, reins himself in, perfecting a simple point-and-shoot style that recalls Woody Allen at his most humanistic, with Frank DeMarco’s intimate cinematography creating an organic platform for the drama to unfold slowly.

It is also not, despite a twinkly score and gentle pacing, without its sharp, darkly humorous edges, best seen in Becca and Howie’s regular visits to a local support group for bereaved parents. When forced to listen to the tragic stories of ‘professional wallowers’, Becca is irritable, interrupting discussion in favour of her own, insensitive putdowns.

Kidman revels in this complex role, recalling her performance in Noah Baumbach’s Margot At The Wedding in how she makes Becca remarkably detestable, yet never grotesque. In comparison, Howie is less antagonistic, but Eckhart remains one of the unsung stars of modern Hollywood, imbuing the character with a deep sadness behind his enforced positivity.

Rabbit Hole could craft a perfectly functional melodrama out of this conflict, but Lindsay-Abaire’s script avoids direct confrontation, at least in the conventional sense, and instead focuses on the unexpected, erratic movements of emotion. Such scenes, where previously serene characters erupt with aggression, are deeply moving, reminding the audience that such wounds rarely heal fully.

Indeed, the ways the two deal with their grief are directly opposed, yet are nevertheless similarly pragmatic. Becca emotionally shuts down, almost to the point of denial, while clearing out belongings and suggesting they move house. Howie, on the other hand, cherishes home videos of their son, while attending the support group and going on as normal. They rarely meet in the middle, yet they must, in order to move on together.

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However, that isn’t to say that Rabbit Hole offers a cure for grief, and the supporting cast, featuring a fellow parent (Sandra Oh), a young boy who was involved in their son’s death (Miles Teller) and Becca’s mother (the always brilliant Dianne Wiest), are only bystanders, offering moments of comfort or relief in the couple’s ongoing negotiation with memory.

Perhaps it is this ambiguity, its resistance to commit to either uplifting or tragic conclusions, that prevents Rabbit Hole from being heralded by awards committees. Maybe America is afraid of its own complexity, and is more interested in seeing narratives of triumph and fantasy, or drama on a more twisted, horrific scale.

It is fitting that Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine have been boiled down to a single Best Actress nominee each, for they are both similarly compelling, honest and beautiful, and what one does for love, the other does for loss.

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4 out of 5