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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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Rabbit Hole

I think it’s safe to say no-one will go into any film about a couple grieving the loss of their child expecting a barrel of laughs—which is the first thing one will assume about Rabbit Hole. It is a hefty topic, which is why director John Cameron Mitchell and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire should be lauded for the tender balance they maintain.

It never goes for all-out schmaltz, nor does it tip too far into a gloomy desolation from which it cannot recover, nor will it arrive at misplaced, overwrought climaxes with Oscar-hungry hands out. It’s a gentle affair whose emotional peaks swell with a natural, human rhythm; while there are plenty of breakdowns and heated moments, they never indicate any sort of manipulative intention.

Mitchell isn’t trying to force us to feel a certain way, which in turn gives his characters greater resonance, because they actually behave like real people. There are tears, there are laughs (who would have thought a film about parental loss would gain its biggest chuckles over a stoned Aaron Eckhart losing the plot at someone else’s sob story?), but it all never feels anything less than human or honest. Healing is a day-by-day process and the quiet sense of hope Rabbit Hole conjures is done so in a way that favours truth over surface-level satisfaction. 

Both Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart—our grieving leads—have never been better. Never have I witnessed Kidman with such wrenching naturalism and tumultuous soul, nor Eckhart so convincingly conflicted: warm, aching, explosive. Both actors have to chart great emotional terrain here and both do so seamlessly, and with elegance to spare. As do the rest of its cast; special mention must go to newcomer Miles Teller, quietly bruised and deftly authentic in a role so frequently leveled to caricature.

As with a lot of cinema, films dealing with this nature of subject matter tend to back themselves into a corner, where they feel they have to jump themselves out through expected hoops; the big emotional resolutions and realizations that a ‘weepie’ demands. Mitchell avoids these trappings altogether; it’ll make you feel without ever feeling like it’s trying to. And credit that to the compassionate, honest spirit at its centre—a product of its pace, pitch and performance.

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