How to do sad and simple

RABBIT HOLE is John Cameron Mitchell’s new film starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as Becca and Howie, grieving parents who just want to stop the ache. Have you seen it? There may be someone in your life who says to you, “There is no way in hell that I’ll see that sad sad sad sad movie.” (Someone said that to me.) But I say, “Hey, in your movies, you got big you got little. You’ve got amusement park rides – most big budget movies today — and you’ve got Sofia Coppola. Can’t you have sad too, with all the happy out there?” What’s more, I like the way in which this film is so simple. And I don’t mean basic.

I’m currently teaching screenwriting, and the trend these days for beginning writers is to be both vague and complicated. I mean this in the nicest way, because that’s exactly how my own writing began. Vague, in that large themes sweep over the material like thunderstorms, but they might exist primarily in dialogue, or in the writer’s head. Complicated, in that a lot of plot unfolds that doesn’t actually take us anywhere. These are just two of the struggles of screenwriters.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s script, however, is lean and mean, and moreover, simple. So we have the set-up: a couple’s child has died eight months prior, and they are trying to cope. So we have theme:  the impossibility of recovery, but the will to keep going anyway. So here’s where it gets hard – with those things in place, what does one give these protagonists to actually DO? (Perhaps it is Nicole’s film more than Aaron’s – which makes him the antagonist – or, they are dual protagonists and also antagonists to each other as well.) Well, Lindsay-Abaire comes up with something simple: each pursues a new relationship, Becca with the teenager who hit her son (Miles Teller); Howie with the veteran member of their grieving parent support group (Sandra Oh). How many scenes go to these new relationships? Four or five each. It’s not many. The progression? It’s not earth-shattering. But it’s enough. And balancing those new relationships are the old relationships (Becca with her mom and sister; Aaron with friends), plus lots of fighting scenes in between, makes a script. It was refreshing to see complicated, emotional material delivered in a clean, simple vessel. Bravo.

And my favorite performance was from Miles Teller, who plays the teen. It’s spot on.

Here’s the trailer:

Pretty sad. But beautifully simple, too.