Review: Nicole Kidman stoic in ‘Rabbit Hole’

Nicole Kidman stars in indie film Rabbit Hole
Nicole Kidman stars in indie film Rabbit Hole
Nicole Kidman stars in indie film Rabbit Hole

You can add one more notch to the list of fine performances by Nicole Kidman. A star yes, but also through-and-through an accomplished actress In Rabbit Hole, she again delivers; showcasing depth, restrained emotion, and channeling all the inner angst you’d expect from a mother dealing with loss. She’s stoic alright, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tears.

Based on a play written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote the screenplay) which I’ve seen twice this year (Palo Alto Players, Coastal Rep) I was anxious to see how this tremendous piece would work on film. Turns out, exceptionally well. And as expected there are some changes to the script, mostly to settings. More on that in a future article.

Grieving and coping with loss are highly personal processes, and surely un-decipherable. We are human, and each of us different. In Rabbit Hole, a devastating event threatens to shatter a family. It’s really a journey of hope, and how each of us find ways — however painful — to make it through to the next day. Food here plays a prominent theme: pound-cake, cupcakes, lemon drop cookies, and even, fruit roll-ups.

As the grieving couple mourning the loss of their son in an accident, Nicole Kidman as Becca and Aaron Eckhart as Howie Corbett deliver subtle performances, and avoid reaching for after-school melodrama. Both develop external relationships that could help them find their way back to a normal life. Maybe.

A young boy (Miles Teller), who likes writing science fiction stories, has something to say to Becca, but the words are hard to come by. Interestingly — and one of my favorite aspects of the script — Kidman’s character turns to science, shunning the local therapy group, with their incessant “God talk.”

Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart

Sandra Oh is well cast in a supporting role that adds some laughs, and a dollop of sadness; another life spiraling downward, but for different reasons. Dianne Wiest also has a small, but pivotal role as the mother. Just like the play, she’s given some of the best lines during some light-hearted scenes. At the bowling alley, on one of her favorite topics, the Kennedys, “It’s a shame. All those beautiful people falling from the sky.”

Director John Cameron Mitchell was in attendance at the screening (during the Mill Valley Film Festival) and received an ovation later, just before he stepped on stage to talk about the film. His camera and framing are delicate, “letting the actors do the work.” It contrasts nicely with some of the handheld work that later accentuates rage and frustration. An aside, I thought the guy was about 30. A quick check on IMDB reveals he’s in his mid-40s. Pass me the tonic.

Rabbit Hole is the kind of film (and play) that I’d like to see produced more often. Devoid of cliches, it instead takes time to reveal layer after layer of melancholy, but also hope and perseverance; Hollywood action and neat ending this is not. Here we see bits and pieces of ourselves, regardless if we’ve experienced such tragedy.

Rabbit Hole
4.5 out of 5 stars
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Good news! You can see Rabbit Hole at the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF). Organizers have announced that the film will be included as part of the NVFF launch celebration taking place next month (details + interview). The three-day event is a preview of the new NVFF coming in November 2011.

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