Drama chases bereaved parenets down Rabbit Hole

<i>Hedwig and the Angry Inch</i> director John Cameron Mitchell offers an intellectual glimpse of the mourning process

The drama Rabbit Hole concerns the death of a young boy, but doesn't really take place in the tragedy's aftermath. You could say that Rabbit Hole begins after the aftermath, eight months following the freak car accident that cost young Danny Corbett his life. Directed by Hedwig and the Angry Inch filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole offers more of an intellectual glimpse of the mourning process than a get-out-your-handkerchiefs tearjerker.

No one begrudges Danny's parents their grief, but the now-childless Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are facing their friends and family's unspoken implication that it's time to move on. The couple can't agree on the best way to cope with their son's absence: Becca finds his old clothes and toys agonizing evidence of his loss, while Howie clings to videotapes and other reminders. Both tend to take out their emotions on other people. Becca particularly resents her mother Nat's (Dianne Wiest) habit of comparing Danny's death to the fatal overdose of Becca's grown brother.

David Lindsay-Abaire improves on his own Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by downplaying the references to Greek mythology and presenting a broader look at the couple's life. A parents support group becomes a kind of arena of awkward, brittle emotions and passive-aggressive flare-ups. Both spouses find comfort in other people: Howie starts a flirtatious friendship with another bereaved mother (Sandra Oh), while Becca stalks a young man (Miles Teller) before forming an unexpected bond with him.

Rabbit Hole's cast gives strong performances across the board, but Teller creates the most surprising, indelible character. It's refreshing to see a teenage role written without a shred of sarcasm, and played with such naturalistic ease. Kidman sheds the formalism that marks many of her film roles, effectively underplaying Becca's anger and sadness. Apart from a couple of scenes that drag recriminations into the open, Rabbit Hole avoids the emotional fireworks that usually win movie stars awards. Instead, Rabbit Hole emphasizes the quiet epiphanies experienced by ordinary people.