One of the great things about film festivals is the opportunity to see a wide variety of different movies in a short amount of time. When else are you likely to watch a comedy, a German existential fantasy, and a 3-D documentary about prehistoric cave paintings one after the other? The danger of a film festival is the possibility of watching two largely similar movies back-to-back, which can only serve to lessen the impact of both. That’s essentially what happened to me this year with the double bill of ‘Beautiful Boy‘ and ‘Rabbit Hole’ – two awfully similar films about parents grieving after the loss of a son.
‘Rabbit Hole’ stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a suburban couple whose four-year-old son was killed when he ran out into the street chasing a dog. Unlike ‘Beautiful Boy’, the child was totally innocent, and the story begins eight months after the event. They’ve already had some time to get over the initial shock, but are still having a great deal of trouble coping with their grief or moving on with their lives. Kidman’s character has focused all of her energies into becoming the perfect, prim-and-proper Martha Stewart homemaker. Because she stays home all day, she can no longer bear all the reminders of what she’s lost. Her husband (Eckhart) thinks it’s time to consider having another child, yet refuses to let go of anything of his son’s. He throws a fit when Kidman accidentally deletes a home movie from his phone, and accuses her of trying to erase the boy’s existence from their lives. Both characters have plenty of repressed rage and recriminations to go around.
Once again, this is an actors’ picture and an intense character drama. The performances are terrific. While the story doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s quite emotionally draining. Director John Cameron Mitchell seems like an odd fit for the material. There is absolutely none of the extravagant looniness from ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ or ‘Shortbus’ on display here. On the one hand, that’s a little disappointing from a director with such a unique cinematic voice. On the other hand, he capably proves that he can stretch himself and tell a very different type of story with admirable restraint and subtlety.
Having watched the two movies in such close proximity, I can’t help but compare ‘Rabbit Hole’ to ‘Beautiful Boy’. Of the two, I think that ‘Beautiful Boy’ has a more interesting take on the subject (the dead son went on a shooting spree and murdered a bunch of people, which the parents struggle to comprehend). Yet I felt myself more drawn towards the characters in ‘Rabbit Hole’. They’re both excellent films, but I wouldn’t recommend watching them back-to-back the way I did. That’s just too much tragedy for one week.