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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

No actor or actress last year gave as good, honest, or complicated a performance as Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. She earned an Oscar nomination for her troubles (losing out to Natalie Portman for her work in Black Swan), but I felt very little passion for what she accomplishes. And that's a shame. Here's an actress who's done amazing work before, yet she nearly derailed her career with bad choice after bad choice. In one small movie, she's earned some real admiration and given hope to all those out there who have written her off. Here, I'll attempt to break down the performance, highlighting some of my very favorite scenes.

Kidman plays Becca, a New England wife who's still grieving the loss of her young son 8 months ago. Grieving is probably the understatement of the year, actually, because Becca is a shell of a human being. Her once loving relationship with her husband, Howie (played by Aaron Eckhart), has devolved into alternating instances of shouting and ignoring. She treats the rest of her family (such as her mother, played by Dianne Wiest) like garbage. And she's completely given up her social life and career. The only solace she achieves comes in the form of Jason (played by Miles Teller), the high-school boy who accidently killed her son.

In one of the film's most memorable scenes, Becca and Howie attend a group therapy session for couples in similar situations. There, Becca shows a nasty streak that will partially define her character throughout the film.

What I love about this scene is that it perfectly illustrates Becca's complete lack of a filter. And I'm not just speaking about the "Why didn't he just make another angel?" line, which is more about her need to blame. The moment the scene opens we see Becca just for a second trying to maintain a guise that she's deep in thought and cares what these other grieving parents. Then, she gives a look--a look that, having seen the film three times now, I could only describe as a Becca look. This look says, "Alright, I've had enough of this shit." In many ways, she's just being difficult. She has preconceived notions about these meetings and the people that attend them, which is preventing her from giving herself over to this process. At the same time, she's just being honest. She doesn't believe a higher power could be all-powerful and divinely good at the same time. If that was possible, how could this have happened to her? And if she's right, why are these people blind to that? This leads to an outburst, which she somewhat comically tries to turn into a moment of levity. Really great stuff to watch.

Here's another good scene. This time, Becca is with her mother, packing up some of her son's old things to finally get them out of her sight. Dianne Wiest, whose character also lost a son albeit under far different circumstances, has a great bit of dialogue here, but it's Kidman's reaction that's noteworthy.

It's not a huge moment, but I think it says a lot about Becca, and it certainly helps her keep our sypmathy. First of all, it's one of the only positive interactions between Becca and her mother. More importantly, however, it helps remind us that she's only human and that she can and probably will get some semblance of her old life back. Unlike the earlier scene, there's nothing phony about Becca here. And though that falseness broke down, it did so in a sea of negativity. Here, she's genuine in her reaction to her mother's story, and we can laugh along with her. We can relate.

The next scene is one of the film's emotional high points. It's definitely one of the scenes that stuck with me the longest, and though there's less of the subtlety that defined the other scenes, there's plenty of raw and powerful emotion to make up for it. To set the stage: Becca has been spending much of her time trying to rid the house of memories of her son. Howie, on the other hand, wishes to preserve as much as possible. These two differing philosophies come to a head after a video on Howie's phone is erased.

"It feels like maybe I don't feel badly enough for you. Maybe I'm not feeling enough. What do you want from me?"

That statement, maybe more so than any in the entire film, sums up the character of Becca. She has no idea how to deal with this loss, so she just shuts down. There's no denying that she's hurting. And she has no problem talking about it. She just doesn't know how to show it. So what those around her get is a stony exterior that's hollow on the inside, and when poked and prodded, that exterior shatters almost immediately.

The last scene I'll discuss happens to be my very favorite. In it, Becca is sitting down with Jason, who was driving the car that accidently killed her son. Becca knows it was an accident, and Jason carries around an enormous amount of guilt, so the two somehow form a friendship. They meet in a park and discuss their feelings, and it's really the only form of therapy that Becca can endure. Here, Jason presents Becca with a comic book he's working on.

What's so lovely about this exchange is that it's a glimpse of Becca as a mother. Perhaps its a reminder of the past, or maybe a peek at the future, but she (perhaps accidently) uses her words and feelings to get through to this kind-hearted but pained young man. It's the culmination of a newly blossomed friendship that, in many ways, defines the movie. Props to Miles Teller, also, who I thought was painfully ignored during last year's awards season. Same goes for Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest--though Kidman owned the film for me, she couldn't have done so without such a strong supporting cast.

There you have it. I hope I've encouraged at least someone to watch this film that hasn't done so already. It's not easy to do, but it's incredibly rewarding on many levels. This is the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of posts outlining just what makes some of my favorite performances so great. If you have any suggestions for actors or actresses I should cover, let me know!


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