By Obed Medina

As far as films about grieving go, Rabbit Hole is as perfect as it can get. This type of material can easily teeter on the verge of melodrama and sappy Lifetime Television movie event territory, but the fine cast and excellent director keep this from moving in that direction and it transcends description.

To say that Rabbit Hole is a movie about a couple grieving the loss of their four-year-old son is to sell the movie short. To say more is to give away what makes this movie such a joy to watch. Yes, I did say joy because this film is not one of those heavy emotional films that drain the life out of viewers. It’s not meant to manipulate emotions and take you on a cheap emotional ride, either. Pure and simple: it’s about real, naked grief. Thanks to Oscar-worthy performances from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart and an unimposing direction from John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole is a perfect adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

The film opens with Becca (Kidman) working on her garden. She avoids contact with neighbors, who try to get her to come out and socialize. Becca makes up an excuse, she’s not up to it. We learn that it’s been eight months since they lost their young son to a horrible accident. From there, the film opens up and follows the grieving process that Becca and her husband Howie (Echhart) go through on a daily basis. That return to normalcy, if there is such a thing for parents who have lost a child, involves the aforementioned well-meaning neighbors, an irresponsible younger sister, and a meddling mother (Dianne Wiest.)

There’s more to the story, thanks to a tight screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (who also penned the play.) His approach is to expand on the emotions and relationships that were so powerful on stage so that they work on film. As the film develops, the relationships become more and more clear as Becca and Howie navigate grief on their own terms – which puts them at odds with one another.

Tammy Blanchard’s Izzy is young, negligent and real. Wiest’s Nat adds another dimension to grief, which only complicates Becca’s own. Behind the drama is director Mitchell with his uncomplicated compositions. If you’re familiar with his previous films, you’ll know that he’s brash and outrageous (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and controversial (Shortbus and the video for Scissor Sisters’ “Filthy/Gorgeous.”) It seems almost a miss-match of vision and content.

However, Mitchell’s films, at the core, are about real human emotion and he couldn’t be more perfect for Rabbit Hole. His approach is to sit back and let the actors bring the characters to life. If there’s any manipulation in the film, it is only in making grief palpable in its editing. There is a heart-breaking scene towards the end of the film that requires no dialogue. It’s a simple cut of all main characters coming to a realization about their lives. That accident on the street will hold these characters together for the rest of their lives no matter how much they want to forget it. It’s bittersweet and dead-on.

In the play, Becca is such a contradiction of emotions, it earned Cynthia Nixon a Tony Award . In the film, Kidman deftly maneuvers the multi-layered facets that made this character so complex that it deserves an Oscar nomination. As a film adapted from a play, it’s one of the best and is exactly what Patrick Marber’s Closer and David Auburn’s Proof could have been.