Grieving Kidman’s Mom Serves Coffee Cake; Nicholson Flops: Film

Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole," a film about a suburban couple coping with the death of their 4-year-old son. Photographer: Jojo Whilden/Lions Gate via Bloomberg

The film version of “Rabbit Hole,” David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a suburban couple coping with the death of their 4-year-old son, proves that a depressing subject needn’t be humorless.

Sprinkled throughout this deeply affecting drama are sharp comic moments that provide some relief -- for the parental characters, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), and the audience. Howie shocks members of their therapy group by calling God “a sadistic prick,” and Becca’s oblivious mom (Dianne Wiest) tries to comfort her daughter with a big slice of coffee cake.

The tragedy pulls the couple apart. Eight months after his son’s death, Howie keeps his memory alive by watching videos of the boy on his mobile phone. Becca tries to erase the past by selling their house and giving away her son’s clothes and the family dog.

They even seek solace with different people: Howie with another grieving parent (Sandra Oh) who shares a joint with him in her car and Becca with the comic-book drawing teenager (Miles Teller) whose car accidentally struck and killed their son when he chased his dog into the street.

“The Rabbit Hole” is a radical departure from director John Cameron Mitchell’s avant-garde films “Shortbus” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” But he handles the sensitive material with grace and gets heartfelt performances from Kidman and Eckhart.

Kidman, also one of the film’s producers, powerfully conveys her character’s emotional shutdown with little dialogue or showy action. Eckhart, in a more demonstrative role, is just as effective as a husband desperately trying to thaw his wife’s icy facade.

The film offers no easy answers or startling transformations. It’s just a simple story about two people doing their best to survive.

“Rabbit Hole,” from Lions Gate, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2

‘How Do You Know’

“How do you know when you’re in love?” baseball star Matty asks his teammates in James L. Brooks’s new romantic comedy.

I have a better question: How can an Oscar- and Emmy-winning writer/director make a movie as horrible as “How Do You Know”?

His film about a former softball standout (Reese Witherspoon) torn between a narcissistic big-league pitcher (Owen Wilson) and a beleaguered businessman (Paul Rudd) is a tedious hodgepodge of romcom cliches. The script, direction and acting are all second-rate, with the exception of the semi-charming Witherspoon. Brooks even manages to make photogenic Washington, D.C., look lackluster.

Nicholson Sleepwalks

Most embarrassing is Jack Nicholson’s sleepwalking performance as Rudd’s crooked father. Jack looks like he’d rather be sitting courtside at a Lakers game.

Nicholson and Brooks previously teamed on multiple-Oscar winners “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good as It Gets.” The only award this movie deserves is a Razzie, which recognizes the worst Hollywood has to offer.

“How Do You Know,” from Columbia Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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