Friday, December 31, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Rabbit Hole: The Movie'

(See my review of the play here.)

"I was just trying to make things nice."
"You can't, all right? I'm sorry. Things aren't
nice anymore."

The above is an exchange we hear in Rabbit Hole, a film adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his play of the same name. Eight months after losing their four-year-old son, Danny, in a car accident, Becca and Howie are struggling to keep their marriage together amidst their separate efforts to grieve.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca; Aaron Eckhart plays Howie. Both of them have very different approaches to their grief. Howie finds comfort in a support group, in reminders of Danny, while Becca tries to rid the house of memories of Danny and can't stand the support group. Things aren't helped by Becca's family--her mother (Dianne Wiest), who insists on comparing her adult son's overdose to Danny's death, and her sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), newly pregnant.

Danny's death was a tragic accident--he ran after the family dog into the street and was struck by a new driver, Jason (Miles Teller, in what looks like his first major appearance). Everyone tries to blame themselves--Becca went to answer the phone, Howie forgot to latch the gate, Jason might not have checked for children as he always did. In watching all the characters try to cope with their grief, going through their daily routines, we see them both breaking apart and beginning to heal.

As the grieving couple, I thought that Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart were fantastic. Nicole Kidman evoked the same reactions from me that Becca did on paper--maybe I didn't agree with her way of grieving (though, really, can you "agree" with someone on something like that?), but I understood her actions and found them rational. She claims at one point that Howie might believe she's not "feeling badly enough," but we slowly begin to see that's not the truth; she feels very deeply indeed. I've loved Aaron Eckhart's work since Thank You For Smoking, and he did an amazing job here considering he's never been married or had a child. I did think the shouting in the argument scenes was sometimes a little too over-the-top on both sides, but they were both great as a married couple and on their own.

What surprised me was my feeling that the play actually worked better as a movie! Some movies adapted from plays do the bare minimum with the medium, simply putting certain scenes outdoors, but Rabbit Hole did all it could, showing scenes that couldn't be shown onstage and really making those scenes count. The opening scene of the play, Izzy telling Becca the next day about her bar fight, is transformed here into Becca picking her up from the police station. Instead of awkward, clunky expository dialogue, we get a scene that's natural and something that really would play out like this in real life. Some subplots are expanded in order to round the film out, but nothing too major is changed, and what little is changed makes sense.

What I loved the absolute most was the movie's ability to show simple but revealing moments that the play couldn't have. One scene that I'm still completely in love with takes place as Howie and Becca are driving to Izzy's birthday party. The cake Becca has baked for the occasion is in the backseat, along with Danny's carseat, which she thinks they should take out of the car. They begin to argue and end up having to stop short. Becca instinctively looks back to check the carseat and make sure Danny's okay, which Howie notices, and when he asks if she's okay, she responds that she was checking on the cake. So much was conveyed just by that glance into the backseat and I give all the credit in the world to Lindsay-Abaire for making the format work so well. (The only thing I felt was wrong was the choice to flashback, however briefly, to the day of the accident. Slow-motion running amounts to something laughable rather than dramatic.)

The film also did a good job of slowly revealing itself to those who hadn't read the play. My mother hadn't and was kept guessing by the first half hour or so, which slowly reveals what exactly happened that day and who all the characters are. It was just as moving as the play; I still cried at the scenes that had touched me in the play. As it ended, my mother reached over and stroked my hair for a minute or two, and we just sat there, thinking about what we'd just seen, what it meant to us, how it made us feel. That, to me, is the highest recommendation I can give for this movie. Affecting, powerful, and incredibly well-done, I have to congratulate all involved.

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