Rabbit Whole

For whatever reason the MPRM people did nothing during TIFF to encourage my interest in John Cameron Mitchell‘s Rabbit Hole (not a single invite, appeal, cajoling…nothing), so I missed last Monday night’s premiere and party and everything else. Thanks, guys! But I caught up with it this afternoon, and it’s not half bad. A bit more than that actually. It isn’t quite A-plus or A but a solid A-minus, and it may begin to penetrate as a Best Picture contender down the road.

It also contains Nicole Kidman‘s best acting in a long while (and I didn’t have a single thought about her facial work). Aaron Eckhart, as her emotionally subdued if not submerged husband, runs with his best part since his nice biker guy in Erin Brockovich.

Rabbit Hole is a restrained/contained middle-class grief drama in the vein of Ordinary People (i.e., dead son), and yes, it does seem curious (although perfectly fine and allowable) that Mitchell has made such a quietly effective MOR drama without so much as an allusion to wang sandwiches or semen facials or that line of country.

David Lindsay-Abaire‘s screenplay (based on his play) never lays it on too thick, but doesn’t hold back too much either. It’s a process drama about keeping the trauma buried or at least suppressed, and about how it comes out anyway — a little hostility here and there, odd alliances and connections, a little hash smoking (a la American Beauty), stabs at organized grief therapy, questions of whether to keep or get rid of the son’s toys. It finally explodes in a bracing argument scene between Kidman and Eckhart, and then it subsides again and comes back and loop-dee-loops and finally settles down into a kind of acceptance between them. Not a peace treaty as much as an understanding that overt hostilities will cease.

A few people applauded at the end of this afternoon’s press screening. I haven’t heard any clapping at all at any TIFF press screenings so far, so this probably means something.

There’s a wonderful scene in which a Kidman disses a group-therapy couple who’ve also lost a child. They’re sharing the notion that God has a plan and He needed their child so he could have an extra angel in heaven, blah blah, and Kidman just shoots that shit down like Sgt. York. Perfect

The only jarring element in the whole enterprise is the casting of the chubby, big-boned, dark-haired Tammy Blanchard as Kidman’s sister. They don’t just look like they couldn’t be sisters or cousins — Blanchard doesn’t look like she’s from Kidman’s genetic family. She might as well be Aborigine for all the lack of resemblance. The only explanation (and if it was offered I apologize for missing it) is that Blanchard was adopted or sired by a different dad than Kidman’s. Their mother is played by the always spot-on Dianne Weist.

Is Rabbit Hole a Best Picture contender? With ten nominations, yeah. Any film that inspires critics to clap has a shot in this game. So I think it’s in there. It’s a very decently made film that, the Blanchard casting aside, never gets anything wrong, and gets a lot of things right. It’s not in the class of The Social Network or Black Swan or Let Me In or Biutiful, but it’s a well honed, entirely respectable, honestly affecting drama.

Sandra Oh gives a fine performance (her best since Sideways) also as a divorcee whom Eckhardt develops a certain interest in.

  • http://reno-rambler.blogspot.com/ reno rambler

    This is nice to hear. Eckhardt is a favorite of mine and it’s nice to see (from the film still) that NK’s work isn’t looking too distracting.

    And kudos for this: “There’s a wonderful scene in which a Kidman disses a group-therapy couple who’ve also lost a child. They’re sharing the notion that God has a plan and He needed their child so he could have an extra angel in heaven, blah blah, and Kidman just shoots that shit down like Sgt. York. Perfect.”

    I get so tired of this kind of BS. Sometimes things don’t happen because “God has a plan” or because there’s “a reason for what happened.” Shitty and/or tragic things happen and sometimes you just have to man up and face that awful truth.

    Also, I don’t know that you were suggesting this, but the graph about BP contenders gave me a jolt. Wouldn’t it be something if Let Me In was nominated for BP?!

  • Josh

    Good write-up, and thank you for making me laugh out loud at work: “wang sandwiches”. I know what you mean, but still.

    And, I’ll sound snarky but I don’t care, I love Aaron Eckhardt even better when he’s named Aaron Eckhart.

  • Joe B.

    She seems to have laid off the Botox since having her baby. Not too uncommon to see her around Nashville; saw her browsing Borders a while back, and even fairly close up, she’s mostly lost that wax-figure, expressionless look.

  • the sordid sentinel

    reno rambler…”I get so tired of this kind of BS. Sometimes things don’t happen because “God has a plan” or because there’s “a reason for what happened.” Shitty and/or tragic things happen and sometimes you just have to man up and face that awful truth.”

    Well said. I heard that bullshit a lot when I lost a sibling during my late teens. That type of blind, hopeless dogma is absolute poison IMO. I am actually interested in seeing this now just to experience the smackdown Jeff described.

  • MikeSchaeferSF

    Would’ve loved to have seen the play on B’way with Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery in these roles, but Jeff’s made me want to see this.

  • Yuval

    I looked up Tammy Blanchard and realized she was the star of the awkward movie Bella, winner of an audience award at Toronto. That was a film that wasn’t ashamed of comparing accidentally killing a child by car to abortion. But one child dies and it saves a baby from being aborted, may be god has a plan. And wikipedia tells me Laura Bush liked it (and Ebert). I don’t remember her being fat though.

  • DiscoNap

    I haven’t seen the movie, maybe she’s porked up, but calling Tammy Blanchard fat (I love how she’s chubby AND big-boned) is psyyyyychotic.

  • Robert Cashill

    Nixon won the Tony for the play, which itself claimed the Pulitzer. It’s good–a lot better than Lindsay-Abaire’s more whimsical/cutesy comedies–and did seem to have a movie in it, much like JACK GOES BOATING, which opens this week.

  • raygo

    Jesus she hasn’t done anything to her face. Seriously people. So tired of that shit.

  • eoguy

    During the public screening at the Visa theatre one enthusiastic audience member told John Cameron Mitchell that he thinks this is the movie to beat at the Oscars this year. Mitchell told him not to jinx it.

  • jeromejohn

    I decided to post in this thread because it’s as good as any. THANK YOU JEFF. You are kicking ass with your posts like you haven’t in many months (although its all been interesting).Very exciting, great writing. You have rejuvenated my love of movies over the last few years.

  • Chicago48

    *yawn* honestly do we need to see more grieving parents on film?

  • thatmovieguy

    Liked this picture a lot. Kidman was terrific, and Eckhart and Wiest were also very good. John Cameron Mitchell did an outstanding job of balancing the heavy emotional content with some sharp humor. Really well-done.

  • Krillian

    I’ll say this for grieving-parent movies. Steel Magnolias was a cheesy manipulative little movie that at least featured showcases for the actresses, or so was my opinion when i saw it as a teen. But I’ve since got married, had kids, and had a child die, and I just saw Sally Field’s big scene at the funeral again, and it was great. She went through four of the five stages of grief in one scene. If they can hit the notes honestly, it can be very powerful. I’d probably resent the rest of the movie that leads up to that scene if I saw it again, but there it is.

    That said, I tend to avoid movies that I hear are “grieving parent” movies unless they’re supposed to be really good. Like In the Bedroom.

  • Newsboi

    Tammy Blanchard is proabably one of the best actresses working today.

    She was brilliant in the TV Movie” Sybil”

    Audience raved her appearance on Broadway as Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy.

    Won an Emmy for her role as a young Judy Garland.

    Robert DeNiro was astute enough to realize her talent by hiring her for The Good Shepherd.

    Her talent has critics asking “Why isn’t this actress a star yet.”

    Obviously aside from physical differences in appearance “Nicole Kidman bless her -saw real, raw talent in Ms. Blanchard to cast her as her sister Izzy.

    Did the actress on Broadway look like each other or for that matter in every little local theater in this country and abroad that puts the play Rabbit Hole on.

    Stop looking at the obvious and start looking at the talent this young lady brings to the film.

    And she isn’t chubby, remember film adds 10 pounds to your appearence.

    I am a big fan of this young lady and I believe Ms. Blanchard will be around a lot longer than the writer of this review.