Monday, January 31, 2011

The Best Picture of the Year. Surprise, It Isn't in the Running.

Honestly, I had no interest in seeing Rabbit Hole. Most people probably never even heard of Rabbit Hole, and I wasn't much different, even with my Entertainment Weekly- and general Academy Awards-obsessions. I'd heard about it here and there, little snippets of positivity across the Internet and other movie media circles, but it would've been all too easy to ignore. Thankfully, its fortuitous Oscar nomination last week for Nicole Kidman in the lead actress role brought it to my local AMC (well, one of three, but this is the GOOD one) and I thought, "if the stars align, I will go see it this weekend and flesh out my nominated-films experience".

Mind you, this was more in the interest of obligation: to myself, to my movie-cred (however tenuous it may be), and to you, my seven disinterested readers. I have a duty to be as first-hand knowledgeable of the nominated films as I can possibly be, even if that duty is entirely imagined. So it was not with eager anticipation that I went to the theater yesterday but with nothing short of dread. Why, you ask? Oh, right, I forgot you haven't heard of the film or, more importantly, its premise. In short: Rabbit Hole is about two parents coping with the death of their young son.

(Oh, GAWD. Please don't make me see this.)

WAIT! You need to see this. I mean it.

I have seen a lot - a LOT - of really good films this year. It's been a strong year for movies, and I have seen all ten well-deserved Academy Best Picture nominees, most of the additional nominees in the acting categories (I'm missing Biutiful and Animal Kingdom, to be remedied ASAP), and dozens of other movies that excelled in their genres. I'm not a professionally paid critic, and therefore don't see hundreds of movies a year, but I average about four a month, or one a week. Compared to some people I talk to, who haven't seen a movie in the theater since The Matrix or freaking What Women Want or, heaven help me, The Phantom Menace, I see a hell of a lot of movies. Rabbit Hole is the best movie of the 2010 slate, bar none. It's, quite simply, perfect.

The problem with Rabbit Hole is that its premise is completely off-putting:  The assumption is it's going to be sad, heart-wrenching, overwrought. It will fall into schmaltz and treacle and scenery-chewing melodrama. It will be intentionally painful and exploitative. Disingenuous. It will insult your intelligence and assault your artistic sensibilities. It will force itself on you. It will leave you feeling emotionally violated.

I am here to tell you right now, it does none of those things. It IS none of those things. Everything Rabbit Hole does, it does exactly right. My "instant movie review" over Twitter said it was "Devastating and beautiful. Expertly constructed and acted." I stand by that again today. There isn't a single line, a single scene, a single look, or a single action that isn't in service to its story. Everything has a purpose; everything is there for a reason.

Now, don't go in expecting to know exactly what's going on the moment that it happens. The beauty of Rabbit Hole, the rarity of it, is that it's so tightly scripted you, as an audience member, are seemingly dropped into the middle of these lives, a silent observer of this moment in time. There is no exposition to let you know, for example, that the person who calls Becca in the middle of the night is her sister. There is no explanatory line, no "You're my sister, not my mom" call-out to let you know who these people are and how they relate to one another. You simply observe them, and it becomes obvious. Likewise, there is no emotionally manipulative, "Oscar clip" scene in which these parents Experience Their Loss. Instead, they live it, every day, in every scene. There's only one moment, in fact, when a summary of their son's death is given, and it occurs entirely in context, as it would were these real people, a real family, trying to walk the line between bereavement that never goes away and the lives around them that stubbornly continue forward.

The summary of Rabbit Hole is factually correct. It is absolutely about two parents coping with the death of their young son. But this summary is also misleading. Rabbit Hole is not what you expect. Pragmatic, authentic, and economical, it offers catharsis without histrionics, and resolution without trite insincerity. It is expertly constructed, a tightly woven story that refuses to undermine itself with cheap shots. It is expertly acted, without a single one-note or phoned-in performance (even Becca's sister's boyfriend, who has minimal lines, manages facial expressions that so clearly convey his thoughts he might as well say them aloud). It is devastating, undeniably, but in a very relatable, organic way. It is beautiful in its simplicity and its intelligence. It is a perfect, perfect film. And it's sad that it won't be recognized as such.

Find a showtime. Go see it.

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