The cruelest thing about life is that it goes on. While most tragedies conveniently roll the credits after the moment of maximum melodrama, John Cameron Mitchell’s surprising Rabbit Hole picks up nine months after other movies would have left off.
It’s been almost a year since Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhardt) lost their 4-year-old son in a car accident, and the two are trying to find their way back to normal. Howie placidly puts on a brave face and keeps up appearances, but sneaks downstairs to watch old home videos late at night. Becca is one of those tightly wound types that Kidman excels at playing, channeling her anger into picture-perfect Martha Stewart housekeeping and passive-aggressively sniping at her boozy mom (a wonderful Dianne Weist.)
Rabbit Hole finds drama in the quotidian questions. When is it time to take Danny’s finger-paintings off of the fridge? How long are they supposed to keep attending group therapy? Are their friends and neighbors ever going to stop acting so deferential and weird?
At first glance, director John Cameron Mitchell, who previously helmed trans-rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch, would seem an odd choice for such delicate material. But Mitchell is a filmmaker who seems to genuinely like people, a far rarer bird than you’d imagine. Though he never quite transcends the script’s stagebound origins, Mitchell makes sure to keep signs of life bustling around the corners of the frame. There’s some odd, endearing business with Kidman’s troubled sister (Tammy Blanchard) plus a few priceless moments between Eckhardt and a therapy pal played by Sandra Oh.
Rabbit Hole is sharply attuned to the peculiarity of extreme emotion, those times when even the most hurtful interactions can turn inexplicably amusing; it’s also a much funnier movie than you’d expect. Devoid of pat resolutions and group hugs, the film wisely understands that grief is mysterious, ending on an uncertain note with hard-earned glimmers of hope.