We’ve seen many movies about the devastating loss of a young family member. From “Ordinary People” to “Rachel Getting Married,” the human emotion of grief is oft-explored.
It’s a universal theme, yet one that everyone grapples with differently. And it’s usually a showcase for great acting.
That certainly is true for “Rabbit Hole,” in which Nicole Kidman (an Oscar nominee for lead actress) and Aaron Eckhart ache with barely contained sorrow. The hurt seeps from their pores like sweat.
They play Becca and Howie Corbett, an affluent couple living in suburban New York. It’s been eight months since their 4-year-old son died in an accident, and they’re having a tough time getting back to a normal existence.
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While Becca finds pain in the familiar — slowly removing any signs of the child’s existence — Howie finds comfort in it. He wants to see the finger paintings on the fridge, while it tears her apart.
They seek solace in group therapy sessions, but it is not working for Becca. She wants to lash out and make others feel as bad as she does.
It doesn’t help when her trouble-prone sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), reveals that she is pregnant. And when their loving but smothering mother (the always wonderful Dianne Wiest) keeps comparing Becca’s loss to her own son’s death.
Meanwhile, Becca finds herself following the teenage boy (newcomer Miles Teller, also excellent in an emotionally mature, restrained performance) who was involved in the accident.
And Howie starts spending time with a woman (Sandra Oh) from their therapy group who is newly single.
But eventually, Becca and Howie must come to terms with their loss, and with how each other is desperately trying to cope.
David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay, which he adapted from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. He keeps the intimacy of the human story without making it feel forced.
It’s an interesting choice for director John Cameron Mitchell, who made a splash with his flashy 2001 Sundance Film Festival hit “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” then his experimental “Shortbus” in 2006.
But both of those films dealt with human connections at their core (although “Shortbus” got more attention for its controversial, sexually explicit scenes). Even with over-the-top characters, Mitchell seems to strive for honesty and emotional realism.
He certainly achieves it here, almost unbearably so. The sadness that permeates “Rabbit Hole” is almost too much to take, though it earns its tears in an unsentimental way.
The film ultimately offers hope for Becca and Howie. It’s a moving, absorbing portrait of loss, and how we simply have to — somehow — move on.