‘Rabbit Hole’ well acted

(MCT) — Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), a well-off Westchester couple, have traveled down a rabbit hole into a nightmare: life without their 4-year-old son, who was killed in an accident eight months ago.

Wandering through their elegant but very quiet home, Becca goes through the motions of domestic perfection: gardening, baking, wearing her prettiest pastels, trying to keep busy. But she can’t seem to connect to anything, not even to Howie, who accuses her of trying to “erase” their boy. In a rage, she explodes. “Do you really think I’m not seeing him every second of every day?” she says, exhausted from trying to hold it together.

“Rabbit Hole,” expertly adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, immerses us in a well of grief, and it’s understandable that some moviegoers may wish to avoid an experience that sounds so thoroughly depressing. And yet, as directed by John Cameron Mitchell, there’s much more to it than misery: wit, wisdom (the pain of loss, we’re told, eventually becomes “something you can crawl out from under and walk around with, like a brick in your pocket”), and a lovely, low-key ending that reminds us that life, though perpetually changed, will somehow go on.

And it’s a showcase for one of the year’s finest ensemble casts. Kidman, in her best work in years, uses her trademark fragility to poignant effect; you fear Becca might break from the strain of keeping up appearances. In her quavery voice, we hear just a hint of Becca’s working-class background; this is a woman who has transformed herself, and now is wondering what it was for. Eckhart, as a father who’s been able to mourn more openly than his introverted wife, is very moving, particularly in a darkly comic scene where he tells potential buyers of their house that he thinks little Danny still lives there, hiding under the bed. Dianne Wiest, as Becca’s mother — a wise woman who nonetheless often says the wrong thing _ brings welcome warmth and softness, and Sandra Oh, as a “professional wallower” (as Becca bitingly describes her) in a parents’ support group, brings a world of back story to her small role. (You can imagine an entirely different “Rabbit Hole,” featuring this character.)
The movie stays with you, as does the softly insistent music of its score and the images that accumulate: a pile of toys, representing the whole of a child’s life; the expression that flickers across Becca’s face as she hugs her newly pregnant sister (it’s like a sudden storm, but instantly dismissed); the sunshine of a summer cookout where, maybe for just a moment, things are OK again.

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RABBIT HOLE

3 stars

With Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Giancarlo Esposito, Sandra Oh. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, from a screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the play by Lindsay-Abaire. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug use and language.