If you're one of those people who wonders why "sad" movies get made, why anyone would possibly want to sit in a darkened movie theater with a handful of strangers and grow increasingly misty-eyed as the plot unfolds, then Rabbit Hole is most definitely not the film for you. If, however, you can appreciate the ability film has to capture singular human emotions, to create a studied depiction of the intense sadness that comes from losing someone you love, then, maybe, just maybe, you can handle John Cameron Mitchell's latest, surprisingly normal (by Mitchell standards) film.
As is made obvious by the somewhat dialogue-heavy, action-absent storyline, Rabbit Hole is based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire (who is presumably quite wide-ranging in his writing proclivities being that he also wrote the script for Robots and Inkheart, one of seemingly infinite Brendan Fraser movies that no one saw). The play went into production in New York City in 2006 and garnered a Tony Award for Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon in the role of Becca.
Considering the brief amount of time ago that the play was in production in New York, the quality of Lindsay-Abaire's playwriting speaks volumes when relating it back to how rapidly the film adaptation generated interest from Nicole Kidman as both an actress and a producer. While the content of the script is fairly simplistic, it cuts to the core of the overwrought nature of how people cope with loss. So compelled by the screenplay was Kidman, she turned down a role in Woody Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger in order to meet the demands of the rigorous twenty-eight day shooting schedule of Rabbit Hole. Another strong testament to the strength of the writing is John Cameron Mitchell shirking his typical propensity for the perverse (Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus) to direct a film with such a barebones subject matter.
Displaying her ardor for the project in many spades, Kidman delivers one of her most exceptional performances since 2001's Moulin Rouge. In particular, the onscreen dynamic she has with Dianne Wiest as her mother, Nat, and Tammy Blanchard as her sister, Izzy, exhibits the lengths of family dysfunction in the wake of a tragedy. One scene in which Becca calls her mother to ask if she can bake Izzy's birthday cake illustrates how easily we are able to turn on those closest to us as Nat asks, "What if there is a god?" In one of her most scathing responses of the movie, Becca retorts, "Then I'd say he's a sadistic prick. Worship me and I'll treat you like shit. No wonder you like Him. He's just like dad." Needless to say, this is a highly painful and lambasting comment for her mother to bear hearing.
When acknowledging the distance Becca feels between her immediate family and her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart), it makes a strange sort of sense that, instead of finding solace in the group grief counseling she has attended for the past eight months since her son, Danny, has died, she would begin meeting with the high school student, Jason (Miles Teller), who accidentally ran Danny over when he chased his dog out into the street. It is through these conversations in the park that Becca is able to comfortably release some of the anguish she has been bottling up inside of her since the death of her son. With Jason, she allows herself to speak freely and is observably forgiving of the unintentional havoc that Jason has wrought on her life.
Howie, conversely, is drawn to the sense of community that group therapy provides. Although Becca blatantly renounces it in front of all the others one evening, Howie continues to go, bonding with a fellow member of the group, Gabby (Sandra Oh), as they get high in her car before each meeting. But, just like the rest of Rabbit Hole, this plotline does not go in the predictable direction that you would generally suspect.
And so, to answer a possibly latent question about how such a story can play out without becoming completely long-winded, Rabbit Hole opts for a typically open-ended conclusion, mirroring the framework for the entire mourning process--that is to say, one motherfucking foot in front of the other until you're back to sprinting mode.