Last night PJ and I finally saw Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a couple, Becca and Howie, whose lives are turned upside down after their young son, Danny, dies in an accident. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, this film starts 8 months after the accident and examines how parents grieve under such awful circumstances. Here’s the trailer:

I loved this film. I had been a little hesitant to watch it, since I felt that watching a movie about grieving parents would be anything but fun. But Rabbit Hole surprised me with its quiet beauty. The word that came to mind after seeing it is “restrained.” There’s a beautiful restraint to this movie that really appeals to me.

Kidman’s restraint is probably what makes this movie so good. A lesser actress might have been tempted to do more obvious actorly things to convey Becca’s overwhelming sense of loss. But Kidman keeps her grief quiet and inwardly focused, slowing consuming her with its magnitude. Kidman is also not afraid to play unlikeable characters. Becca is brittle and in pain, making everyone around her uncomfortable. Nothing they do is right, and Becca lets them know it at every turn.

Eckhart gets the showier role — he starts flirting with Sandra Oh’s Gaby, a woman at a self-help group for grieving parents, who offers him pot and some fun. His Howie also lashes out in anger over his loss and its randomness. He doesn’t want to move on or to let go, but he is eventually forced to start living again. We see him make choices about how he will continue to live and these choices led him to start growing again. Eckhart is great in this role.

Dianne Wiest plays Becca’s mother, who lost also her son when he died from a drug overdose at the age of thirty. At first, Wiest plays Nat as an alcoholic, problem mother who can’t really relate to her daughter’s misery. But slowly, Wiest reveals Nat’s inner strength and wisdom, and we see that she actually does understand Becca and can even offer her a little comfort. I’m surprised she didn’t get an Oscar nomination.

We also meet Jason, the 17-year-old who accidentally killed Danny when Danny ran out in front of his car. As played by Miles Teller, Jason is a slightly nerdy, sci-fi fan who is also trying to deal with his grief. We get a sense of how life changing this accident has been for him too. That he and Becca begin communicating is surprisingly beautiful plot point.

I had forgotten that Mitchell directed this movie. I love his work — and Hedwig and Shortbus are two of my favorite movies. One of the things I love about those movies is Mitchell’s use of the camera and creativity in shooting angles, including animation, etc. He keeps his direction appropriately simple in this movie. It has his trademark animation, but here it’s very much integral to the story.

Rabbit Hole is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a beautiful piece of writing and a beautiful film. Becca and Howie’s problems aren’t solved by the end of the film — it would be incredibly stupid if they were — but still it’s surprising how uplifting the movie is while never shying way from the magnitude of loss. It’s a very mature movie, and I loved it. If I had seen it last year, it would probably have been number 2 on my favorite movies of the year list.

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