For whatever reason the MPRM people did nothing during TIFF to encourage my interest in John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole (not a single invite, appeal, cajoling...nothing), so I missed last Monday night's premiere and party and everything else. Thanks, guys! But I caught up with it this afternoon, and it's not half bad. A bit more than that actually. It isn't quite A-plus or A but a solid A-minus, and it may begin to penetrate as a Best Picture contender down the road.
It also contains Nicole Kidman's best acting in a long while (and I didn't have a single thought about her facial work). Aaron Eckhart, as her emotionally subdued if not submerged husband, runs with his best part since his nice biker guy in Erin Brockovich.
Rabbit Hole is a restrained/contained middle-class grief drama in the vein of Ordinary People (i.e., dead son), and yes, it does seem curious (although perfectly fine and allowable) that Mitchell has made such a quietly effective MOR drama without so much as an allusion to wang sandwiches or semen facials or that line of country.
David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay (based on his play) never lays it on too thick, but doesn't hold back too much either. It's a process drama about keeping the trauma buried or at least suppressed, and about how it comes out anyway -- a little hostility here and there, odd alliances and connections, a little hash smoking (a la American Beauty), stabs at organized grief therapy, questions of whether to keep or get rid of the son's toys. It finally explodes in a bracing argument scene between Kidman and Eckhart, and then it subsides again and comes back and loop-dee-loops and finally settles down into a kind of acceptance between them. Not a peace treaty as much as an understanding that overt hostilities will cease.
A few people applauded at the end of this afternoon's press screening. I haven't heard any clapping at all at any TIFF press screenings so far, so this probably means something.
There's a wonderful scene in which a Kidman disses a group-therapy couple who've also lost a child. They're sharing the notion that God has a plan and He needed their child so he could have an extra angel in heaven, blah blah, and Kidman just shoots that shit down like Sgt. York. Perfect.
The only jarring element in the whole enterprise is the casting of the chubby, big-boned, dark-haired Tammy Blanchard as Kidman's sister. They don't just look like they couldn't be sisters or cousins -- Blanchard doesn't look like she's from Kidman's genetic family. She might as well be Aborigine for all the lack of resemblance. The only explanation (and if it was offered I apologize for missing it) is that Blanchard was adopted or sired by a different dad than Kidman's. Their mother is played by the always spot-on Dianne Weist.
Is Rabbit Hole a Best Picture contender? With ten nominations, yeah. Any film that inspires critics to clap has a shot in this game. So I think it's in there. It's a very decently made film that, the Blanchard casting aside, never gets anything wrong, and gets a lot of things right. It's not in the class of The Social Network or Black Swan or Let Me In or Biutiful, but it's a well honed, entirely respectable, honestly affecting drama.
Sandra Oh gives a fine performance (her best since Sideways) also as a divorcee whom Eckhardt develops a certain interest in.