Rating: 4.5 out of 5
After two iconic films (Hedwig and Shortbus), Mitchell deploys his distinctive directorial style to adapt Lindsay-Abaire's play for the big screen. And he brings a remarkably light tough to the heavy subject matter, creating a film that deeply moves us.
Becca and Howie (Kidman and Eckhart) are a wealthy couple in the New York suburbs, but their life is coloured by intense grief after the accidental death of their 4-year-old son. Unable to move on, they struggle to integrate their loss into their daily routine, attending group-counselling sessions that Becca can't bear due to other parents' religious platitudes. Meanwhile, her mother (Wiest) and sister (Blanchard) add both comfort and stress, and Becca's chance encounter with the teen (Teller) who was driving the fateful car sparks her to take unusual action.
The story's theatrical origins show in the way nothing much happens in the film: the focus is on the themes rather than the people. But this allows space for the cast to explore their characters, taking us along with them in unexpected directions. All of the performances are raw and sometimes painfully honest, as people blurt out things they really shouldn't say. They're unable to discover easy answers, and working through this is going to take time. With rather a lot of pain along the way.
Kidman and Eckhart are terrific in the central roles, conveying a lovely sense of history in their relationship, even if the script gives them no back-story at all (what does Howie do for a living that lets them live such a privileged life?). We really feel their connection, the brittle humour they find in everyday situations, the deep commitment that might help them make it through the stages of grief with their marriage intact but permanently altered.
Of the ensemble around them, Wiest and especially Teller stand out with subtle, searching performances that have moments of razor-sharp insight. And the stripped-down acting style echoes the way Mitchell approaches the material, dwelling on the plodding ordinariness of the situation by using sharp comedy, sudden emotional responses and wrenching anguish. Death is part of the fabric of life, as are the pain and confusion that go with it.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th January 2011
Box Office USA: $2.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $2.2M
Distributed by: Lionsgate Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 163 Rotten: 26
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Screenwriter: David Lindsay-Abaire