Aaron: Well, I’d say ‘meh’. I really didn’t think that much of it. I think it’s about white people with white-people problems. (I don’t particularly like white people. It’s true.) There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not very compelling, not really visually dynamic and not handled in any sort of interesting way. I think I was supposed to identify with one of the two lead characters, but I didn’t really… and I don’t think the point is that they’re unlikable people. I just don’t think it’s a particularly good script.
Alex: Totally. I identified with the kid much more than the grieving couple. I think David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote both play and screenplay, does too. The kid shows up for one scene in the play, and although it’s a beautiful scene it sort of stands in for a climax/catharsis without really accomplishing that particular heavy lifting. You can tell the author was drawn to this character — he even has the speech that gives the play its title. What’s most interesting about the adaptation is how Lindsay-Abaire weaves the kid into the entire story.
But anyway, I’m totally with you on the lack of visual anything in this movie. A lot of close-ups, a lot of master shots and coverage. John Cameron Mitchell never dares, for instance, let a character speak while not on camera. And there’s no feel of the house, even if all there is to feel is lack of feeling. Mitchell does everything respectably, as if deliberately staying out of the way of the actors. (Need we remind ourselves Nicole Kidman was a producer on this movie?) It all made me appreciate the subtle visual and aural stuff Robert Redford did with Ordinary People. And the careful distance and composition of Todd Field’s camera in In the Bedroom. (Two better movies about white people grieving.)
Aaron: Yes – your point about the kid is right-on. He is the only really human character in the film. He’s the only one with any approachability… the only one who is at all sympathetic. I found the husband and wife to be “types” (cold, grieving wife and hard-working husband trying to put things in order) and rather melodramatic characters in the midst of a drama… or was it all just a poor-man’s Sirkian melodrama? Maybe… But Sirk, of course, was all about the visual style and massive aesthetics. I just think the couple were stereotypes.
I also didn’t like that the way the kid was introduced, you don’t know who he is and if Kidman has a sexual attraction to him (I know you did, Alex… and when you say “identify with him”, you mean something more…). This is clearly not what’s happening, but is confusing (especially when it’s paralleled with Ekhart flirting with that Canadian, Sandra Oh) and cheap and lazy. There’s no reason we couldn’t have seen a quick flashback or something establishing about him early on to know he wasn’t some boy she liked to look at. It was not clear until their talk on the bench.
I agree with you about Todd Field’s In the Bedroom... and would add to that Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room (also a similar story of a family dealing with the death of a son… but they speak Italian… and the shrink father reminds me a lot of my shrink father). Both are aesthetically interesting and subtle… but simple.
I finally want to say (and I know you will hate me for writing this, Alex) that I can’t stand that when Kidman goes into Manhattan to try to get a job, she takes the LIRR train… from Yonkers. This is sloppiness that has no excuse. There’s no reason they couldn’t have put a sign over the LIRR sign saying Metro North. They’re both MTA and both the same kinds of trains. The director controls everything in front of the lens and this is simply a mistake that should have been caught during production. Sorry to be so exact and picky.
Alex: For once I agree with one of your realism nitpicks. I didn’t notice it when I watched the movie, but of course you’re exactly right, and it annoys me too. Why? Because it seemed to so important that the film let us know where we were — Yonkers, NY, everyone, where affluent people commute to the city, apparently — (hang on; I don’t know from Yonkers, but is this really Yonkers?) — and if it’s going to be so precise it should do, again, what Ordinary People and In the Bedroom do, namely, give us a vivid and authentic sense of location. (And The Son’s Room, too, I guess, but it’s all Italy to me.) Nicole and Aaron could’ve been in any affluent suburb, really.
Hang on. I just realized something. I just got pissed about something. And now I’m gonna write way more than anybody — even the two of us — wants to read about this particular piece of well-made Oscar-bait.
The play — which I must say again I love — is also set in Yonkers, NY, and does the play do a better job of making the location a part of its narrative fabric? And does it need to?
The answer to both questions is yes. Prior to “Rabbit Hole” Lindsay-Abaire had a reputation as a comedy writer, a headier version of Douglas Carter Beane. (Jason and his comic book and parallel universes and rabbit holes are of the worlds DLA explored in his plays “Fuddy Meers” and “Kimberly Akimbo.”)
“Rabbit Hole” — again I’m talking about the play — spends a lot of its energy exploring grief through humor. It’s a damn funny play. It’s about a family of upper-middle-class suburban Jews and how that particular family deals with their profound loss. (As one of Aaron Sorkin’s villains says in his “West Wing” pilot, “That New York sense of humor,” and Toby Ziegler is quick to point out, “She means Jews.”) It’s a family right out of Westchester County.
Is it just me, or has the movie been goy-i-fied? Tyne Daly’s been replaced with Dianne Weist, who, weirdly, drops a lot of the g’s from her gerunds, as if that’s supposed to locate her in the New York vicinity, but it just sounds practiced and awkward.
I mean, look. I’m a playwright. If Nicole Kidman calls me and wants to produce my play as a movie so she can play my central Jewess, I’m not gonna look that particular goy horse in the mouth.
But the other movies to which we’ve been comparing Rabbit Hole — The Son’s Room, In the Bedroom, Ordinary People — are specific about how their respective families grieve, and that is inextricably tied to class and place and lifestyle, while Rabbit Hole keeps it all generic. (As you say, Aaron, they’re types.) And, I hasten to add, Generic isn’t the point of the movie; this isn’t American Beauty, which deliberately sets itself in Suburbia, U.S.A.
And because I can’t get through an entry without busting your balls, Aaron, I think you’re wrong about how the kid is introduced. The flashback would’ve been the lazy thing to do.
Aaron: There’s much here I can’t comment on because I didn’t see the play, though I do love the idea of white people going to the thee-atah to watch plays about white people and their grieving. It’s so meta my Mac is about to explode.
I will say that the couple felt very beige and non-denominational, which I guess is exactly what you get when you get a call from Nic Kidman who wants to adapt a play about Jews (or you cast Daniel Craig and say he’s a Jew because his brother is Liev Schreiber). I do think it’s funny that the husband (who is Jewish in the play and more Jewish here than his transparent-skinned wife) falls for the one Asian (one non-White) in the story. Still, the way they deal with their shit doesn’t feel particularly Jewish and does feel particularly WASPy… is that how it’s treated in the play. Jews wouldn’t spurn the mother/sister and wouldn’t grieve separately… I mean modern, secular Jews.
I also think it’s funny how many movies (and plays, I guess) deal with the sons of white people dying. White people really have it hard in America/Italy…. and in suburbia. White sons also always, apparently, have their own rooms (which come up in titles of these movies and plays). How nice for those boys. I bet they’re all really good a chess and love baseball statistics.
(Fine – the kid didn’t need to be introduced in a flashback, but there should have been some establishing shot or throw-away line explaining early on who he was. It doesn’t work emotionally if we don’t know who the hell he is and why she’s obsessed with him. It’s creepy and that library scene totally doesn’t work at all. I thought she just had a kiddie crush on him (a crush on a kiddie, that is). That’s not fair to mislead me like that.)