REVIEW ROUND UP: ‘Rabbit Hole’ at TIFF

From the little I’ve seen and heard about the film it is no surprise to me that critics are calling Rabbit Hole a major departure for John Cameron Mitchell. The eccentricity of his previous films Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch is apparently not evident in the character drama about a married couple facing a terrible loss. I’ve never seen or read David Lindsay-Abaire’s play on which the film is based, but I’ve been to enough acting auditions where monologues from this play were presented that I have a general idea of the film’s tone and purpose. On paper it could be a major Oscar contender, but Mitchell is some what of a wild card and the film has not been heavily buzzed about until its bow at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.

Let’s take a look at what the critics think, shall we?

Eric Kohn of indieWIRE says that the film doesn’t dig too deep into the question of what makes us human, but it’s an impressive effort nonetheless:

Where movies with delusions of grandeur would aim for a sappy climax, “Rabbit Hole” hugs the ground. Mitchell only turns up the volume for a confrontational screaming match between the couple, the kind of angry throwdown that can prove a challenge for any two actors. Fortunately, they handle it with incredible dexterity, ably avoiding the danger of sounding shrill. To his credit, Mitchell works his way around the pratfalls of extreme sentimentalism. The sobbing is kept to a minimum, with nobody delivering a tell-all monologue in the concluding scenes. Despite his Broadway pedigree, Mitchell nimbly dodges a stagey approach. The cumulative impact “Rabbit Hole” is merely surface-deep, but the movie still inhabits fertile ground.

Peter Debruge of Variety is more impressed by the film spelling out that it could be a potential Oscar contender, especially for its stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart:

Grief may be the topic under examination, but humor — incisive, observant and warm — is the tool with which it’s dissected in “Rabbit Hole,” a refreshingly positive-minded take on cinema’s ultimate downer: overcoming the death of a child. Adroitly expanded from the legit hit by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (its original, Pulitzer-winning author) and director John Cameron Mitchell, “Rabbit Hole” fittingly offers a parallel-universe variation on what Broadway auds saw, with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart delivering expert, understated performances as the pic’s central couple.

Brad Brevet of Rope of Silicon says that Aaron Eckhart is left without much to do as Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest steal the show:

It’s been a while since Nicole Kidman actually impressed me in a movie and she’s never been a particular favorite of mine, but here she is a stunner. Kidman gives a real and honest performance and as a result Eckhart’s performance pales in comparison. Dianne Wiest also gives an impressive performance as Kidman’s occasionally naive, yet sympathetic mother, making both Kidman and Wiest serious lead and supporting Oscar contenders.

Howard Feinstein of Screen says that the transition from stage to screen has done wonders for softening the film:

Becca and Howie argue over what to do with their child’s possessions, whether or not to sell the house, whether therapy is worthwhile. The impact is softened by the star quotient as well as the transition to celluloid. Even the casting of the always reliable Wiest, whose face has an attractive softness, makes her more palatable than the burly Daly. Tammy Blanchard delivers a fine performance as Izzy, Becca’s bad-girl sister who becomes pregnant, her growing state being a source of tension between the siblings.

Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist agrees that Kidman is the star, but only thinks that Eckhart doesn’t shine as much because his character is less developed. He also thinks the film is huge for Mitchell’s future:

The film will undoubtedly open doors for Mitchell. He shows himself capable of handling more mainstream, but certainly powerful fare with a reserved approach that does the characters and story wonders. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible if he didn’t get two ace performances out of Kidman and Eckhart. While Kidman is in typically fine form, Eckhart is a standout, juggling quite a few different emotional markers for his character with tremendous insight. Yes, they both get big meaty scenes but thanks to Mitchell and the smart script by Lindsay-Abaire, these moments feel naturally encouraged rather than forcefully bookmarking each narrative milestone.

CONCLUSION

Based solely on the reviews (which by no means represent the Academy’s taste) I would say that Kidman sounds like a safe-bet and Wiest seems like a strong contender. Eckhart probably won’t make the final list for Best Actor and as for the film’s chances for Best Picture? I’d put that down as a big fat “maybe.”

What do you think?

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