9 First Impressions of Nicole Kidman's Oscar-Ready TIFF Drama Rabbit Hole
I don't know where these rumors start, but no sooner had Rabbit Hole concluded its Toronto Film Festival premiere Monday night than the talk had begun: Is John Cameron Mitchell's adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play -- featuring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as an affluent married couple grappling with the accidental death of their 4-year-old son -- worth adding to the 2010 Oscar shortlist? Honestly, I think it has more immediate concerns. A quick survey of first impressions follows the jump.
1. They definitely don't rush into the customary Expository-Dialogue Section of the Dead-Child Drama, and I can't tell you what a relief that is. In fact, you could argue that section never actually arrives, though the Antichrist-style flashback to the accident that kills Becca and Howie's son (desaturated super slow-motion; close-up exchange of glances; the extremes of intimacy, minus the sexuality) is probably a little much. It's a pretty organically developed story overall, with few clichés and plenty of subversions. You're not just sitting around waiting for the big blow-ups -- which is good, because they're a little underwhelming when they do arrive.
2. One such subversion: I love these little takedowns of group-therapy catharsis -- the backlash to "God-talk," the little eruptions of dark humor deflating the setting's clichéd entitlement to angst, pathos and self-pity. Not to bash group-therapy! It's just refreshing to see it used to wholly different dramatic/comedic effect.
3. Dianne Wiest never ceases to be a delightful, reassuring presence onscreen, especially when drunkenly talking about the cosmic influences behind the so-called Kennedy family curse. Brilliant. And of course she brings the dramatic chops as well.
4. Ohhhh, so that's supposed to be Becca's sister. Could they have chosen anyone with less of a resemblance to Nicole Kidman (Tammy Blanchard, in this case) to play her sister Izzy? Is she adopted? What happened here?
5. I know this is just a movie, but nobody speaks this low in a video arcade or this pitched in a nail salon (over pedicures!) about subjects as intimate as infidelity, child-death and/or sibling pregnancy resentment.
6. So everyone is talking about this film's distribution odds and Oscar potential, and while it is no doubt well-made, affecting and a shoo-in for theatrical release, there's just nothing... remarkable here. Would I recommend it? Sure. Would I mention it in the same breath as Black Swan or Biutiful (or earlier 2010 fest-acquisition darlings like Animal Kingdom or Winter's Bone)? I don't think I would, alas.
7. Look, I'm sorry, call this a cheap shot if you want, but there is something wildly unnerving about Kidman's face. You get used to the mask once you've spent some time with it, and at times the literal expressionlessness has a resonance. But when she breaks down, raises her sobbing head and pulls back the skin where she's clearly had her neck taken in -- seriously, it looks like her throat was slashed -- it completely takes you out of the movie. Best case scenario, she's a housewife with a cosmetic surgery jones, but that's not the character she's cultivated up to that point. This is a serious problem. The performance is fine, but it's inarguably compromised.
8. Aaron Eckhart is mostly on his game here, but he feels too pliant here -- to the whims of both his character's wife and the writer's influence. He feels like a kind of prism through which everyone is refracting their crap, which may be the idea, except the refractions aren't providing much of a spectrum. It's a few colors -- that aforementioned angst, anguish, dark humor, frigidity, curiosity -- but never vivid enough to really dazzle. He catches the light wrong. Too abstract? Ugh. Maybe I need a second impression.
9. As an audition for Mitchell to go mainstream, this is about as good as it gets. He stays out of the way, lets the script and his cast do the work, nicely develops the space in and around the couple's home and suburban neighborhood... It's tasteful work for grown-ups. Mission accomplished. Next stop: Iron Man 3!