Rabbit Hole (PG-13)
Kimball's Peak Three
According to movies about the death of a child, one of the worst parts of recovery besides the grief and longing is that everyone you come in contact with handles you with kid gloves. It's the look in their eyes, and the self-fulfilling effort not to say the wrong thing that inevitably ends in doing just that. And even if some brave soul finds a way to speak to you as if you're not going to shatter in a million pieces, you might just do that, anyway. You never know.
Except we, as the audience watching this unfold, do know. We've seen it before, and yet we butter our hands and slide those kid gloves on the second we learn of the basic plot. Critics are the worst offenders: Throw the word "grief" around a marquee star (Nicole Kidman, in this case) and director (John Cameron Mitchell) and watch the award trophies start flying.
But this time, we'll take the gloves off and be honest: Rabbit Hole is utterly pedestrian.
For one thing, it's been done ... lately ... multiple times. See Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon enduring parental tragedy in The Greatest and James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo doing the same in Welcome to the Rileys: similarly budgeted, slick-looking pictures banking on grief-stricken histrionics for cred.
In Rabbit Hole, scripted by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, every action that Kidman and her rage-filled husband (Aaron Eckhart) take are a surprise to them. But the viewer could practically fill in a Mad Libs as they go along.
Kidman tends her garden (once) and imbues a flower with a shot of emotion; friends walk on eggshells; the two erupt inappropriately at strangers; they struggle to reconnect sexually, leading to odd, on-the-side connections with a fellow grieving parent and a teenage boy.
By the time Eckhart buries his face while sitting on his son's empty bed, all but the most emotionally vulnerable watching will have already wondered what the next scene holds — perhaps his wife waking up in her car after crying herself to sleep the night before? Yep, there it is.
What happened to this couple happens every day in real life, and it's maybe the worst thing anyone could go through. That's why filmmakers keep showing it, and they should. But there's more than one way to do it, just like there's more than one way to show two people falling in love or going on an adventure. Mitchell and Kidman (who also produced the film) have merely assembled a highlight reel of grief as shown on the big screen and pumped it full of star wattage.
It's telling that I found myself yearning to follow the journey of co-star Sandra Oh, the woman whose coping mechanisms (pot, Skee-Ball) catch Eckhart's eye. This is a parent who's been coping with this for years, and seems to have let it both envelop and free her. It's not that she's cheery about it, but she's long gone through the steps our main couple is going through and in that sense, she's our proxy, nearly rolling her eyes at the formula of it all.
As hard as it is to go through the motions of these kinds of movies, imagine watching it play out every week at group therapy. No wonder she gets high.