It takes a lot to faze any woman who can whip up a spontaneous crème brûlée breakfast using the same amount of energy that most people require to pour milk over a bowl of cereal.
And while Becca maintains an air of perfection in her kitchen, baking perfect pies and serving risotto on weeknights, inside she has been shattered by the death of her son eight months prior to the time that Rabbit Hole begins.
Rabbit Hole is a story of trying to cope. Becca (Nicole Kidman) tries to keep from dealing fully with the tragedy by meeting it with steely, culinary resolve, while her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhardt) wants to tackle their problems head-on. He likes seeing traces of their son around the house (she hates it), and he fights a losing battle to keep Becca attending group therapy sessions with him.
The scenes in "group" are some of the best in this emotional heavyweight of a film: Becca and Howie may be struggling to deal with their problems, but they can't help but sneer or snicker at how other people are choosing to deal with theirs. When Howie, while stoned, accidentally guffaws during one group member's self-important soliloquy, we don't begrudge him his rudeness, because he's at least finding laughter somewhere.
There is a lot of misery in Rabbit Hole, but director John Cameron Mitchell (working from a script that David Lindsay-Abaire expanded from his acclaimed play) fills his film with the soft light that pours in through the windows of Howie and Becca's house, a hopeful counterpoint to the extreme emotional difficulties faced by his characters. Even when Becca stands in a dusty basement, hearing from her mother (the always-welcome Dianne Wiest) that grief will never go away, the look of the film is warm and autumnal. While the consistency of the performances is surely testament to Mitchell's talent at directing actors, it is just as much the way his film looks and feels that makes everything work so well.
Rabbit Hole is packed end to end with complex emotional exchanges in which no one is right or wrong, because everyone's just trying to figure things out. In this way, it is about not just grief or therapy, but the way that conflict comes from people's unwillingness to admit that they're unsure how they feel. An argument about Becca deleting Howie's favorite video of their son turns into an argument about their different ways of coping, which turns into an argument about their dog. The argument begins with an enraged shout and ends with Howie's ridiculous but believable statement that they need to get their dog back from Becca's mother because she's making him fat.
As well written and acted as the dynamic between Howie and Becca is, the most moving relationship portrayed in the film is that between Becca and Jason, a teenage boy whose character can't be fully discussed if we are to avoid spoilers. As Jason, Miles Teller gives a monosyllabic, vulnerable performance; he shares a simple scene with Kidman on a park bench that walloped me emotionally like no film in recent memory. Rabbit Hole's emotional grip on the audience never loosens, which makes it all the more meaningful as the film points to the possibility near its final scenes that the characters may eventually find a way out of their suffering.