The Kids Are All Right, Rabbit Hole, Conviction

There are a few more films I'd like to discuss before the Oscars. One of them left me wondering about the theme of the film, another left me in awe of the leading lady and one was just really sad. I don't think any of these movies opened in wide release. They're what are called small or quiet films, which doesn’t mean they don't have important things to say; just that they aren't splashy, super publicized monstrosities like Transformers Infinitum.

I had heard a little about The Kids Are All Right before I saw it but I mistakenly thought it was a documentary about a family with children who are gay. Instead it's about two teens, a boy and a girl, with two moms. The boy, called Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is curious about their biological father, an anonymous donor, while the girl, named Joni (Mia Wasikowska), doesn't really care. Laser is too young to legally look for his biological father but Joni is turning eighteen and she agrees to do the research for him. Naturally they hide it from their mothers, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening). Bio dad turns out to be mellow dude called Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who has an organic restaurant and garden. He also drives a motorcycle and is the antithesis of Nic, who is a driven, controlling doctor.

One by one the members of the family, except Nic, are drawn to Paul and his easy breezy ways. As they spend more time together the existing problems with the family dynamics are amplified and real schisms appear. My big question was why a man? If you're going to tell a story about a lesbian couple having problems why does a man have to be the instigator? Isn't that both clichéd and a male fantasy that's presented to us as commonplace? I'm not sure why the creator of the film would go for the more boring choice. Ms. Bening was nominated for a SAG Award for her performance, which is stellar, but I was more taken with Ms. Moore's. She is, to quote a friend of mine, more luminous with each year that passes.

Rabbit Hole is the story of a family splintering following the accidental death of the young son. Nicole Kidman plays Becca, the mother, who is extremely depressed and refuses any type of solace. She turns down social invitations and is too angry to gain anything from group therapy. She isn't religious, so can't even take refuge in platitudes like "God needed him," a weird saying I've never quite understood. Can't God hang out with people they need while they're still alive? But I digress. She and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still together, hanging in there, being nice and polite to each other, but there are large festering wounds below the surface.

This family has been through a horrific tragedy but the story is framed in a way that made it hard for me to be engaged. The basic story is one I've seen a thousand times before and while it's sad I didn't connect with the characters. They're ultra privileged and Becca kind of drifts around doing nothing. Howie has a big fancy job and gets to leave the house every day, but Becca is trapped in the house where she was raising her young son. I can't help thinking that maybe a job would give her some direction and help her get unstuck. Some volunteer work would probably be good since times are hard. Also doesn't doing for others make you feel better automatically? Or is that just the after affect of reading one too many Louisa May Alcott novels?

All that aside, there is one thing about Rabbit Hole that keeps it from being a movie of the week. Well, maybe two. Sandra Oh is a delight as a mother who has been stuck in a support group forever. She's hilarious and one of the two most intriguing characters in the film. The other is Jason, played by newcomer Miles Teller. Jason was the driver of the fateful car. He's young, still in high school, and he's also haunted by what happened. When Becca seeks him out, an encounter that could go horribly wrong, they connect and make plans to meet again. Miles Teller is quite good as Jason, a complicated role which allows him to use a wide range of acting skills. If you're like knotty emotional scenes you'll be a fan of Rabbit Hole.

Finally I want to talk briefly about Conviction. Natalie Portman was superb in Black Swan but Hilary Swank gave her a run for the money in Conviction. I had a difficult time deciding which woman was going to get my vote for the SAG Awards. Conviction tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters who spends her life proving her brother Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell, who is terrific in this and was phenomenal in Moon) is innocent of murder. I was deeply disturbed by this film and the damage done to the family by Kenny's false imprisonment. Ms. Swank's performance is brutally honest and heartbreaking. Special mention goes to Minnie Driver, an actress I've never really noticed before. She is inspiring as Betty's best friend and muse/mentor, pushing her along when Betty is too depressed or overwhelmed to continue.

Bonus Treat:

Emily Carroll, who draws wonderful art and comics, made the most amazing comic for Valentine's Day this year. It's the story of Anu-Anulan and Yir's daughter. I don't know if I like the story or the art better. Together they make one perfect, scrumptious treat that made me sniffle. Enjoy!