The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Rabbit Hole
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star as a grieving couple in Rabbit Hole.

The hardest part of reviewing Rabbit Hole is going to be convincing you that it is not a downer. When you hear of the subject matter, there's a natural reason to think the film is going to be a depressing experience the kind you might reasonably talk yourself out of having. But part of what makes Rabbit Hole so effective is that it studiously avoids the sort of unnecessary melodrama that it could very easily have fallen into. Your tears aren't jerked because it's tragic, but because it finds a ray of light amidst the darkest of darks.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie Corbett, a couple struggling to come to terms with the death of their 4 year-old son eight months prior. Howie latches on to anything he thinks might help, including a weekly support group meeting for grieving parents. Becca, on the other hand, shuns all help, even when it comes from her understanding mother Nat (Dianne Wiest), who once lost a son of her own. The Corbetts are not entirely united in their grief; they don't see eye-to-eye on how to cope with their tragedy. Becca resents that Howie is actually trying to feel better. Her response is to deny herself any pleasure whatsoever, telling herself that it's wrong to feel even a shred of joy when their world isn't right anymore.

The story follows their different trajectories. Howie gets more involved in the support group and ends up forming a connection with another member (Sandra Oh) who seems to be more on his wavelength than his wife is. Becca, meanwhile, begins a friendship with a teenage boy named Jason (Miles Teller), who is the only person she feels fully comfortable sharing her emotions with. Eventually, the Corbetts realize that if their marriage is going to survive, they will need to come to an agreement about how to proceed with life after one member of their family has died.

Rabbit Hole is one of the most profound movies about the grief process I've ever seen, if not the most profound. The screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (based on his stage play) addresses some of the practical issues, as Becca and Howie try to decide what to do with their son's clothes and toys, where the boy's pet dog should be, and whether to sell the house that has so many memories or leave it all behind and go somewhere else. It also goes into much deeper territory, exploring how people do manage to cope with devastating grief. There is a deeply moving scene between Becca and her mother, wherein Nat gives what is probably the most accurate description you will ever hear of how grief evolves from something unbearable into something painful but manageable. And more than anything, that is what Rabbit Hole is about the transition from being overwhelmed by grief to learning how to deal with it.

This is some of Nicole Kidman's best work. Never one to shy away from an emotionally demanding role, she dives into this part completely. We feel the way Becca is, at some level, punishing herself for events that were beyond her control. The more she tries to bottle it up, the more prone she is to have anger outbursts at others for their perceived insensitivity. The only time she cuts herself any slack is when she's talking to Jason, perfectly portrayed by newcomer Miles Teller. Aaron Eckhart is Kidman's equal and opposite, playing a guy so desperate to feel okay again that he'll grab at anything. At the same time, Howie has his own breaking points which, when reached, are more potent because of the sympathetic manner in which Eckhart portrays the character.

Have I made Rabbit Hole sound not depressing yet? I think it's important to note that director John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) keeps the focus looking forward. Many movies would have chosen to show this couple in grief, and simply stopped there. This one is all about them trying to work their way out of that grief. This is not a picture about people mourning, but rather a look at the process of finding one's feet again after a loss. That gives it a hopeful quality you may not anticipate. Yes, there are moments where Becca and Howie break down, yet there are many more in which they surprise themselves by finding a way through the blackness that previously felt impenetrable. In spending 90 minutes with them, you walk away confident that the characters are going to be okay. They know it to. Exactly how it will happen isn't clear, but the certainty that it will happen is.

I hope people take a chance on Rabbit Hole. One film I might compare it to is last year's Precious. That film similarly found a way to take you through difficult subject matter and leave you in a comforting place. To do that is a skill, one that can only be accomplished through filmmaking of the highest order. Rabbit Hole is beautifully made and acted, with a life-affirming point of view that makes it an intensely rewarding experience.

( out of four)

Rabbit Hole is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug use and language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.