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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole is based on the 2007 play of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire which I managed to miss both in NYC and in DC. It's a very well-acted but not entirely convincing domestic drama about a couple trying to deal with the death of their 4-year old son eight months before, the couple played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart and her mother played by Dianne Wiest.

It's hard in some ways to judge a movie with subject matter like this. Both my parents are in their '80s and aren't going to be around forever. Their five children all got virtually identical upbringings and especially insofar as religion is concerned have managed to end up at all different kinds of places as adults. I am looking forward with a certain dread fascination to seeing how this all plays out when we have to deal with a loss in the family, as someday we are certainly going to have to do. For one, I don't currently anticipate that I'll want to do everything the handbook of Jewish mourning says you're supposed to do, and there are other people in the family who almost certainly will. Will this cause tension in the family? Will that tension play out in quiet or subtle ways, or will we argue it out? If there is tension, will it linger for years or decades, or will we be able to move on? It's something I would enjoy watching with clinical detachment, and will get to live it instead. And I can think back to cousin Jane's wedding, there are things you think only happen in movies and soap operas and sometimes they happen for real.

All that being said, my big problem with Rabbit Hole is that too many of the awkward moments that are so brilliantly acted by this fine cast seemed to me to be made-up awkward moments that exist for purposes of the script in ways they wouldn't exist in real life. One example: the couple decides to sell their house, the wife goes off to read in a park for a few hours, the husband insists on staying around during the showing and when he's showing off their son's room to a couple that's looking at the house there are those awkward moments. The script handles it wonderfully, and Aaron Eckhart doesn't have a false note in his performance. But I just kept thinking how in real life the real estate agent would probably hire a team of horses and have them drag the husband away from the house for the showing, instead of saying "sure, stay." And the husband would never even say he wants to stay, because there's no guidebook on this process in the history of ownership of real property that advises the owners to stay on site during a house showing. No, no, no, no, no. Another example is a scene that's in the coming attraction, which is set at a bereavement group where the Nicole Kidman character challenges somebody giving their story, how God must have needed another angel and took their daughter. Kidman says "couldn't God have just made an angel. He's God after all. Can't he just make another angel." In the real world, I think eight months later that Kidman would probably have enough tact in her body not to say that aloud, during the group meeting. She might think it, she might say it to her husband in the car on the way home, but she wouldn't blurt it out like that. And if she did, somebody would try a lot harder and quicker to tell her to stifle, while here for dramatic purposes she's allowed to say her piece uninterrupted. Again, it's a wonderful scene to look at the face of the other mother, and the faces of the other people in the bereavement group. All wonderfully acted and directed by John Cameron Mitchell with great grace and tact and beauty. But I don't buy it.

It's hard to know where to draw the line on moments like these. The son was killed when he ran out into the street after the family dog, and was hit by a teen-age driver who swerved to avoid the dog without noticing the son fast on the dog's tail. The mother is having clandestine rendezvouses with the teenager. That may or may not be convincing, but it's the kind of thing that happens often enough in drama (the kids in Party of Five need to meet the drunk who killed their parents) that I'm willing to buy it here. And buying that, the scene where Nicole Kidman drives by the kid's house not realizing its prom afternoon and is overcome to realize there will never be a prom for her son is real and powerful and one of the best scenes in the movie. That she falls asleep in the car and doesn't wake up until the kid pounds on her door on his way home at 6AM the next morning is then a good way to ruin the reality of the moment.

Do I recommend it? Do I not? I don't know. It isn't an easy movie to sit through, but it's got enough human heart and ultimate optimism that it isn't one of those depressing downer sorts of things that can only be enjoyed on an intellectual level. Yet I've seen darker more depressing movies like The Sweet Hereafter that I might recommend more quickly simply because there darkness rings true. And there are awkward moments on film like Anne Hathaway's toast in Rachel Getting Married that are more believable to me than the awkward moments here.

Nicole Kidman was a very pleasant surprise. She can be a little icy sometimes, but in this role she somehow finds an openness and warmth and heart to her performance that is engaging and open even when the character is flirting with the edges of acceptable behavior. You never know what you're getting with her, she can be wonderful in genre fare like Dead Calm or in Cold Mountain, she can be awful in a Far and Away. She's amazing here, perhaps her finest piece of work, though thinking on great performances by actresses in 2010 I may still give the nod to Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright. But this is great work.

I was disappointed with Diane Wiest, who is less wonderful than usual. Which may have more to do with her part than her performance.

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