Losing a small child is perhaps the most horrible thing that can befall a married couple, and playwright David Lindsay-Abaire won the Pulitzer Prize four years ago for tackling that emotionally charged subject as directly and honestly as he could in Rabbit Hole. Now, inevitably, comes the film adaptation, which stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as the bereaved parents, who are dealing with the tragedy in dramatically different ways. He takes comfort in group therapy sessions with others whose children have died; she can’t abide the empty platitudes. He obsessively watches a video of their son on his iPhone; she methodically empties the house of every trace of the boy’s existence. Complicating matters further, each develops an odd, not necessarily healthy friendship—he with a fellow therapy member (Sandra Oh); she, very tentatively, with the teenage kid (Miles Teller) who accidentally hit their son with his car.
Rabbit Hole is sensitive, admirably restrained for the most part and very well acted. At the same time, though, Lindsay-Abaire’s head-on approach to overwhelming grief follows such a predictable trajectory that there’s not much to do except sit there and feel for those people as they do the Kübler-Ross quadrille. Some subjects are so inherently powerful that they’re best handled metaphorically—Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter) built his early career around the various absurd rituals people concoct as coping mechanisms in situations like these. By comparison, Rabbit Hole, for all its honesty and intelligence, feels a little rote. Simply watching people suffer doesn’t automatically constitute great art.