Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Falling Down

Rabbit Hole
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Miles Teller, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, Tammy Blanchard

John Cameron Mitchell’s film version of David Lindsay-Abaire’s overrated Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole, about a couple coping with the accidental death of their four-year-old son eight months earlier, consists of a series of scenes almost exclusively trained on a single target, like dumb bombs exploding after making their lone points.

Rabbit Hole is shallower than its title suggests. Becca, the bereaved heroine wallowing in her young son’s death, has to deal with her irresponsible younger sister Izzy’s pregnancy (how dare she bring a life into the world when Becca’s son lost his?); her mother Nat’s constant mentioning of the drug overdose death of her 30-year-old son (and Becca’s brother); her husband Howie’s well-meaning but ineffectual attempts to rekindle their intimacy; and her own interest in Jason, the high school senior who was behind the wheel when Becca and Howie’s son fatally ran out into the street.

Becca’s unlikely relationship with Howie plays as an idealized form of forgiveness by Becca who, despite sundry problems with everyone else in her life—she ridicules a couple’s reference to God and angels at a group therapy session and later hits a woman shopping in a supermarket because she won’t indulge her own son with candy—makes an effort to bond with the young man who killed her son. The problem is not that such a tentative friendship wouldn’t blossom between these two people, but rather that Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell never make it plausible, keeping it mainly symbolic (the comic book Jason creates clumsily explains the film’s title) which puts it at arm’s-length from the viewer.

Lindsay-Abaire adds characters only mentioned in his play with platitudinous results. Gaby, the married woman from therapy whom Howie might be seeing, is only mentioned in the play; in the film, we see them grow closer to each other, even sharing some pot before a group meeting. Then, in the movie’s phoniest scene, the two of them giggle their way through the session as others tell their emotional stories. Aside from that glaring misstep, this subplot about Howie’s relationship with Gaby, brought on by his frustration over his non-existent physical relationship with Becca contain the movie’s most persuasive moments.

Becca’s supermarket “fight,” paralleling an earlier scene when sister Izzy (one letter short of “Dizzy,” one assumes) is bailed out by Becca after getting into a bar fight with her current boyfriend’s ex, is only mentioned in the play, and the more effective for it. By actually being shown in the movie, the scene loses any emotional power it could have had because Becca comes off as unhinged rather than sympathetic.

Mitchell directs with a subdued sledgehammer, using soft lighting to make the movie look like a Lifetime Channel tearjerker or episode of “Army Wives” and even using slow motion as Jason, on his way to the prom, sees Becca crying in her parked car after she has a flashback to the actual accident. It also doesn’t help that Anton Sanko’s music, mainly comprising piano tinkling, is used for maximum sentimental effect.

The performances range widely from Nicole Kidman’s somnambulant Becca to Aaron Eckhart’s intense Howie. The supporting characters—Dianne Wiest’s Nat, Tammy Blanchard’s Izzy, Miles Teller’s Jason and Sandra Oh’s Gaby—are given little opportunity to become three-dimensional, since they serve as way stations in a flimsy psychological study.

Rabbit Hole
takes a foolproof dramatic subject and makes it maudlin rather than memorable.

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