Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hole in One

When all is said and done, 2010 might be remembered as the year of the indie film. Seriously, in a year when so many big productions have scampered to catch every dollar they can just to break even, the indie films are raking in the dough. Winter's Bone, Black Swan, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, and Blue Valentine have all earned their share of positive critical reviews, award nominations and relative box office success even in limited releases. In fact The King's Speech, in earning over $88,000 per theater its opening weekend, had the highest gross per theater for any opening film this year, surpassing another art house winner, The Kids are All Right. But it's not just the financial successes that are worth watching: if we followed that logic, I would be running out to see Little Fockers (hint: I'm not). Sometimes it's the award nominations that direct us to something we might not have given a chance to otherwise. In this way nominations play a huge role in guiding audiences to films they might not otherwise see to drive up box office numbers and make their small film more impressive in the eyes of voters. And damned if it doesn't work. How many films have you not at first seen, only to change your mind when it gets nominated for an Academy Award? Me too, and that's why this past week I took advantage of living near a multiplex that happens to carry the occasional limited release film to see the John Cameron Mitchell-directed Rabbit Hole.

"Hello, I'm Harvey Dent and I want to be your D.A."
Based on the stage play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is about grief and mourning. It's been eight months since the death of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart)'s young son Danny, who was killed in an accident, and the husband and wife still have a hard time reconciling the sudden loss in their life. Visits to support groups don't work for Becca, who is bothered by those who try to justify their child's death by saying that it's God's plan. Stricken by grief, she wants to rid herself of the visual reminders of her lost child, wanting to go so far as to move out of the house they love. This puts her at odds with Howie, who relishes those same reminders and doesn't want to lose the image of Danny from his mind. As the two strain dangerously apart, each makes difficult decisions and try to learn to live with the emptiness that has come in their son's absence.

Yes, there is indeed Al Green playing in the background
Rabbit Hole received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for this film, and when you watch Kidman's performance you'll understand why. Kidman doesn't just cry throughout the film (though she does her fair share) like you might expect in films like this. She shows several sides of grief in her performance, from sadness to depression to disbelief in others' attempts to help her cope. Everywhere she looks and everyone she meets in the course of the film remind her in some way of Danny, and Kidman does an amazing job showing even the tiniest traces of the strain that such things would put on her emotions. She does the big waterworks productions to excellent effect as well, but it's the restraint in her performance that really sticks out and makes it a must-see.

For God sakes, woman, don't let him get on the topic of shrimp!
Compared to Kidman, everyone else in the film doesn't quite stack up, but closest is Eckhart as the suffering husband Howie. Unlike Becca, Howie doesn't want to let go of Danny's memory, wants the help of others both familial and stranger, and regularly immerses himself in the memories of raising his son. Like Kidman, Eckhart doesn't just mourn in one way, and he varies from subtle to loud in his work. It's only because of Kidman's stellar performance that one could say he was lacking, and he does a fine job in his understated execution. Award-winning actress Diane Weist does an amazing job playing Becca's mother Nat, who underwent a similar process with Becca's deceased brother years ago. Weist is a great storyteller and her appearances in the film, though sometimes straining, always serve a purpose to push the movie's tale forward. Other great showings come from Sandra Oh as a member of the support group Becca and Howie attend, Tammy Blanchard as Becca's insufferable and immature sister Izzy, and Miles Teller as Jason, a teen who Becca befriends over the course of the film.

Life feeling like a Prozac commercial?
Of course, there's no guarantee even award-addled audiences will want to see a film in which the main plot device is the death of a child. It's particularly dark stuff, full of bittersweet memories and encounters, and the great performances by the leads means you the audience feels the same grief they do, albeit on a much smaller scale. The film is also a bit predictable, as you can guess some events before their occurrence and the characters take a few side-trips in their emotional roller-coaster journeys that are telegraphed a mile away, though their impact on the audience is still palpable enough as to be moving. Some off-beat pacing slows down the film at parts as well, but not poorly enough to detract from the tale telling.

The weirdest hand-holding scene EVER
For what it's worth, Rabbit Hole may not be a perfect film but is still a very comendable one. Even with the amazing performances by its star cast, it however has the risk of being completely overshadowed by even the other indie films this year, not just the big blockbusters. 2010 was a big year for working small, and I hope that Kidman's performance doesn't completely get shut out by the Portmans, Hathaways and Jolies that threaten to take over during this biggest of movie seasons. I would put this one in the same category as Winter's Bone, a sterling and emotional ride that may not leave you wholly fulfilled, but definitely makes you think about life and it's many existential mysteries.


jimmygerms said...

I'm glad you liked the movie. I really liked it too, however I have two things to bring up. One slight slight slight disagreement, and one small omission. The disagreement is that while, yes, Nicole Kidman is phenomenal in he movie, I thought the most heartbreaking performance was the teenage boy Miles Teller as the teenage boy. He barely says a word, but his expressions carry so much volume, its near astounding. And I think the one thing you forgot to mention is, surprisingly, how funny, sometimes hilarious, the movie can be. It's got a well earned dark humor in it, especially where the support groups are concerned. I'm glad you saw this though. We will discuss further!

jimmygerms said...

and yes, i know I wrote "the teenage boy Miles Teller as the teenage boy" I'm dumb. Say something!