face: Oscar nominee Kidman in Rabbit Hole.
Mysteries of Sorrow
by John Cameron Mitchell
you can’t swing a cat without hitting upon some fragment of
the grief industry. Talk shows, self-help books and countless
magazine articles profess to help you find closure, but in
reality perpetuate the idea that you can’t live with grief
as part of your overall being. I mean, that would be like
admitting failure, right? I was afraid that Rabbit Hole,
directed by John Cameron Mitchell and based on a Pulitzer
Prize-winning play by David Lindsey-Abaire, would be this
year’s version of parents grieving all over themselves and
others over the untimely death of a little one. Oh, God, did
I really want to sit through this exercise in emoting for
Happily, Rabbit Hole is nothing at all like a particularly
maudlin episode of Oprah. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and
Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are good-looking suburbanites, living
in a lovely home above the Hudson, and ensconced in an eerie
silence that gradually reveals itself to be the aftermath
of their 5-year-old son Danny’s death. Howie tries to cope
through group therapy, a process that Becca finds altogether
creepy. He takes her rejection of this potential lifeline
as yet another proof that she’s trying to “erase” Danny (he
takes exception when she finally takes the boy’s finger paintings
off the fridge). She bristles when her mother (Dianne Wiest)
compares the loss of her son Arthur to Becca’s, caustically
pointing out that Danny got hit by a car, whereas Arthur was
a heroin addict who OD’d. Becca meets the news of her sister
Izzy’s (Tammy Blanchard) pregnancy with forced enthusiasm,
going as far as to offer her all of Danny’s duds, which Izzy
gently rejects. Howie, at least, has the outlet of work and
squash buddies, but he ultimately finds comfort in getting
stoned with Gabby (Sandra Oh), another support-group parent.
Becca tries to return to her former coworkers at Sotheby’s,
only to find that they, like everybody else, have moved on;
she resorts to reaching out to the teenager (Miles Teller)
who drove the car that hit Danny.
Hole is muted in tone, allowing us to watch characters
try to make sense of why they are alive, why they are doing
routine things on a daily basis. The fact that one of Becca’s
closest friends still hasn’t called, eight months after Danny’s
death, is telling, as it reminds us how death and tragedy
often cast a pall over our relationship with the affected.
Becca’s mom represents the flip side, grief stalkers who profess
to want to help by sharing in your sorrow, but who really
just get off on the ride. Kidman is extraordinary, soft and
brittle at the same time, fiercely protective of her own sorrow
now as she probably was of her child when he was alive. A
group scene in which one couple rationalize their daughter’s
death as God just needing another angel is brought to a stunning,
if strangely funny, conclusion when Becca blurts out, “Then
why didn’t he just make one?” Eckhart is equally compelling,
a man whose joy has been eradicated, and who simply cannot
find a way to fight through the suffering. The movie’s most
chilling scene has Howie explaining to some potential homebuyers
how Danny’s room, which is completely charming for a little
boy, haunts him with the deceased’s presence.
At times I didn’t buy that Becca came from the same background
as her working-class mother and sister, but ultimately, I
accepted it, as Becca, and perhaps Howie, seem to have escaped
their pasts and entered into what was supposed to have been
the happily ever after: the beautiful house, the great careers,
a lovely son. Very much like Little Children, Rabbit
Hole casts a light on what used to be Cheever territory,
the hidden sorrows and great malaise that sometimes exist
beneath the polished surfaces of suburban life. The park where
Becca meets the teenager seems bereft and lonely. The library
where they first come face to face is old and depressing,
contrasted to nice effect when Becca, out of her earth-toned
Eileen Fishers and wearing a chic black suit, heads to the
city to try to reconnect with the living. The movie shimmers
in sadness, but, with its great and unexpected humor, it is
also grounded in an affirmation of life—even if it offers
no blueprints to follow.
Place Like Home
by Sofia Coppola
To say that Sofia Coppola’s latest cinematic meditation, Somewhere,
goes nowhere, isn’t quite fair; but then again, it’s not quite
fair to audiences to have a film concentrate on near motionless
close-ups to so little effect. It opens with a car going in
circles, and ends with a car being driven straight to . .
. some desolate patch of desert roadway, where it ends in
a minimalist gesture that would be an embarrassment for a
college film-class project. Centered on a few weeks in the
laid-back life of Johnny Marko (Stephen Dorff), Somewhere
is reminiscent of Coppola’s breakthrough, Lost in Translation,
but even more stripped-down and sparing of dialogue.
Johnny, who is a celebrity of some sort, is staying at the
famed Chateau Marmont, where he is recuperating from a broken
arm and going to parties in the rooms of other guests. You
can tell he’s a celebrity by the way people talk to him and
women come on to him. And by how his phone keeps ringing with
people telling him where to go, and how he will be taken there.
The vagueness about Johnny’s profession—he looks like a fading
but still handsome grunge guitarist—gives the film’s first
sequences a dry effervescence. This is capped at a hotel party,
where Johnny chases a pain killer with a highball and a cigarette,
and is fawned over by a younger man who wants to know about
his acting technique: who he studied with, does he do Method.
Johnny replies in a mumble: “I have an agent who sends me
Just as Johnny’s laid-back, celebrity slacker lifestyle starts
to wear out its hazy cocoon of booze and big-studio privilege,
his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), comes for an
extended visit. She accompanies him on a press junket to Milan,
and becomes his best gal pal. This is territory Coppola knows
well, having spent much of her youth in the company of her
filmmaker father, Francis, and yet Cleo is simply appealing
without creating a strong impression. She’s competent and
apparently not spoiled—and not all that much younger-looking
than the Hollywood nymphets who are part of the free-wheeling
The film is delicately aware that Cleo is bordering on the
girlfriend role to her father, who doesn’t seem motivated
to move beyond one-night stands and casual flings. His first
day with her comes after an evening watching twin blonde pole
dancers in his room; the next morning he’s watching his daughter
ice skating in almost the exact same pleated miniskirt as
the sporty pole dancers. Not much is made of this, or of the
fact that Johnny seems to be a genuinely nice guy, albeit
a little numbed by privilege; this makes the ending a mere
curlicue dabbed onto a vague and languorous portrait.
face: Oscar nominee Williams in Blue Valentine.
by Derek Cianfrance
seems to me highly unlikely that director Derek Cianfrance
is the type to screen his movies for test audiences. Trained
under such visionary outsiders as Stan Brakhage, Cianfrance
is being touted as a young auteur. Perhaps, deservedly. His
student films were received enthusiastically and his first
submissions to Sundance were equally, if not more highly,
praised. And Blue Valentine shows an almost astoundingly
sure directorial hand.
Nevertheless, I’m curious about how the movie might test—in
part, because Blue Valentine had me wondering about
why, exactly, it is that I go to movies in the first place.
This just might be very high praise. But I’m not sure, yet.
Gosling and Michelle Williams star as Dean and Cindy, a young
married couple. Though they are living in Pennsylvania, their
lives seem lifted right out of Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey,
circa The River. And though, at movie’s end, there
is some ambiguity about their fate, the feeling of the flick
is that of a postmortem: Their relationship is presented in
a series of time-jumping vignettes, a collage that, to me,
suggested an indie version of the bulletin boards used in
forensic dramas. The body’s on the slab, so to speak. It’s
an up-close, handheld, “Then I got Mary pregnant, and, man,
that was all she wrote.”
Gosling and Williams are, both, just remarkable. Cianfrance’s
intimate direction allows for an incredibly direct experience
of these talented actors. I find Gosling an intensely compelling
and watchable young actor (more so, for what it’s worth, than
Christian Bale). And, yet, in Blue Valentine, Williams
is maybe even better. Her performance is so unaffected and
nuanced as to seem . . . well, real.
And there’s the rub. Blue Valentine is a completely
believable depiction of a working-class American marriage.
Two likable, though damaged, people come together in hope
and love and admiration and optimism and idealism, only to
find that the world devours those things in quantities even
robust relationships can’t always reliably produce.
Valentine isn’t a tearjerker. It’s too simple and too
recognizable for that. It doesn’t take the viewer (or didn’t
take this viewer, anyway), far enough out of him or herself
to allow that kind of sad abandon. So, at skillful movie’s
end, you’re left with a kind of fond and fatalistic voyeuristic
I kinda wonder what demo is looking for that.
Job of Work
by Simon West
more crappy trailers and then STATHAM!!!!” “Enough with the
wordless self-doubt. KILL SOMETHING AL READY.” “Damn, Statham
is thinking the FUCK outta this conundrum.”
After following Patton Oswalt’s hilarious live Tweets from
a screening of the latest Jason Statham vehicle, one couldn’t
help wondering if there was any reason left to see The
The laconic lead of Snatch, The Transporter, Transporter
2, Transporter 3, Crank, and Crank: High
Voltage is the action hero for our time. His screen persona
is smarter than Sly, Arnold and Chuck combined, and,
even better, he’s as reserved as Clint’s Man With No Name.
Seriously: Who has time for the likes of Arnold’s lumbering,
deadly dull one- liners, or Mel’s incessant ravings? Plus,
Statham’s British: After a decade of international fuck-ups,
the age of the American action hero is dead. (Don’t believe
me? They just cast another Englishman as Superman.)
Mechanic is a remake of a classic ‘70s Charles Bronson
flick about a hit man (a “mechanic”) training a younger dude
in the craft. As you’d expect, the remake is more brutal and
more sentimental than the original. Statham is (of course)
the hit man, Ben Foster is the eager young recruit, Donald
Sutherland is Statham’s mentor figure and Tony Goldwyn is
the suit who must be dealt with.
Statham is exactly who you expect him to be, ruthless and
efficient. Sutherland is charmingly world-weary. Goldwyn is
corporate soullessness embodied. Foster, however, is mostly
lost. Not as lost as he was as the conflicted Iraq War vet
in The Messenger, but definitely unconvincing. The
actor who stole 30 Days of Night and 3:10 to Yuma
still can’t get his mojo back.
Having directed actioners ranging from the baroque (Con
Air) to the cartoonish (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider),
fimmaker Simon West brings a relative restraint that is admirable.
If one is feeling generous—and why not?—West can even be forgiven
the film’s one idiotic video game-style killing sequence.
(Oh, for the days of simply wiring stuntmen with exploding
The surprise twists that ended the Bronson version on a pleasingly
sour note have been altered, as you’d expect. Like Bronson,
however, Statham admirably goes about his job—in character,
and as an actor.