May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 17 February 2011 11:56
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a nominee for an Academy Award for Best Actress, Rabbit Hole.For any parent, no loss could possibly equal the death of a child. No explanation could satisfy, no reasoning could heal. It simply isn’t supposed to happen this way. Children should survive their parents.
How one married couple attempts to survive the death of a child is examined with taste and care in the film adaptation of the Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Rabbit Hole. And while this strong story experiences a few bumps in its move from stage to screen, the essential strength of the ingredients remains whole. And the film benefits from a fresh, touching and ultimately masterful performance from Nicole Kidman as the grieving mother.
Becca and Howie seem to have it all, a lovely home in the suburbs, fulfilling lives and the trappings that indicate contentment. But they grieve because, not long before, their young son died in a tragic accident. And people grieve in different ways. Becca covers her pain with a stoic, rehearsed calm while Howie clings to any memory of the young boy. As he plays a video clip of the playing child, over and over, he fears forgetting what he looked and sounded like.
Slowly, they try to piece together their lives, joining a support group for grieving parents, supporting family members, pursuing activities to construct normal routines. But they grieve. Something is missing, everything is wrong. Only when Becca dares to talk with the young boy responsible for the accident can any healing begin. But it’s going to be a long road.
On stage, Rabbit Hole touched a chord with Broadway audiences, won a Tony Award for star Cynthia Nixon, and performs as a most beautiful expression of parental grief. But success on stage can haunt a well-intentioned film. Audiences in a theater are willing to suspend disbelief to absorb the deep thoughts that characters express. But film audiences expect everything to be a bit more real and resolutions to be more immediate. That shift can threaten the subtle ambiguity of any piece; for a play as fragile as Rabbit Hole the demands to “open up” the proceedings can dilute its power. In this drama, the power is in the characters, and director John Cameron Mitchell’s visual efforts occasionally blur that focus.
Fortunately, the exquisite cast makes up for any minor disappointments in the adaptation. Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, who is always a joy to watch on screen, soaks up every nuance in the script in her marvelous portrayal of a caring, but domineering mother. Surprisingly, she was overlooked for an Oscar nomination. Aaron Eckhart delivers some of his strongest screen work as the grieving husband in a performance that demands much more than many of his roles in larger films. As always, Gioncarlo Esposito brings an engaging authenticity to his role as Auggie, as does Tammy Blanchard as Becca’s sister. We only wish these characters had more screen time.
But Rabbit Hole is Nicole Kidman’s film and she is fabulous. After a dry spell of weak films and predictable performances, Kidman reminds us why we admire her as an actress. Rarely has she been so engaging, accessible and heartbreaking, as she creates a fully realized portrayal of a mother in grief. This actress, who recently appeared so artificial in Australia and The Golden Compass, returns to the natural gutsy approach to performing that marked her early appearances in To Die For and Eyes Wide Shut. While she is too young for us to use the word “comeback,” Kidman clearly returns, for the first time in years, to the quality work we admire.
Because of the cast, and the inherent strength of the piece, Rabbit Hole emerges a nutritional film experience that rises above its slight weaknesses as a film. And it reminds us, as parents, that every moment with a child is sacred, any moment can end too briefly, and healing only begins when we face truth.
* Content: High. At its core is a beautifully written play by David Lindsay-Abaire that deserved its Pulitzer Prize.
* Entertainment: Medium. The tragedy of the moment, and the reactions of the characters, make this a less entertaining but certainly meaningful visit to the movies.
* Message: High. This nutritious film offers strong messages to children about the strong love that parents feel for their children and how, as parents, we want more than anything for our children to be safe, healthy and happy.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to help older children understand the feelings behind parents’ actions is worthwhile
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the love that holds families together and helps them endure challenging times.
(Rabbit Hole is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug use and language. The film runs 91 minutes.)
4 Popcorn Buckets
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