As awards season gets into full swing The Film Experience will grow more Oscar focused by the week. I'm nowhere near as adept at prognostication as Nathaniel, but I reckoned it was as good a time as any to resuscitate one of our key features, the Monday Monologues. To make up for its absence, you get two quickies.
I was re-watching a few episodes of In Treatment last weekend and remembered how much I love Dianne Wiest. I’m sure you do, too. In a career of illustrious turns (including her duo Oscar wins) I’m turning my attention to one a little less feted, the supporting role of "Nat" in Rabbit Hole.
Rabbit Hole remains one of the most interesting curios in recent Oscar history. [more]
I remember bemoaning in earnest the potent weirdness of Nicole Kidman (deservedly) storming through each ceremony with a nomination but seeing no extension of love for the film. No, not for Aaron Eckhart’s searing turn, not for Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation of his own Pulitzer prize winning play, not for Mitchell’s direction and not for Wiest’s performance. How could voters take notice of Kidman’s excellent turn but miss the fine film housing it or the performances surrounding her? But, it happens every year. Voters from every award body fixate on one specific part of a film at the expense of all its other parts.
Kidman’s Becca, whose small son died in a hit-and-run accident, is the movie's focus. Wiest’s arc as Nat, Becca's mother, is informed by the way Becca reacts to and resents her mother's presence in the grieving process and the mirror she holds up. Nat constantly reminds Becca that she, too, lost a son (Becca's brother), eleven years earlier, to a drug overdose. It never fails to rankle Becca. The tagline says that "the only way out is through," and it’s not a disingenuous line; Rabbit Hole is about people working through their grief. By the time the first of Nat’s two semi-monologues occur her resentment towards her mother has faded as they pack away dead Danny’s toys. The two bond in their grief and Becca reveals that her former best friend hasn’t called her since her son died, uncertain (probably) of how to act.
I remember when Arthur died...
Then Nat hesitates. Becca has always been resentful of the comparison. But Nat senses that Becca is less prickly at this moment and willing to hear the story. That's lucky for us because it's a good one.
You remember Maureen Bailey? Well, I couldn’t get rid of her after your brother passed away. She was always at the house. I never had a moment to myself. So, finally, in the middle of coffee one afternoon I finally said to her: 'Maureen, why are you always here?'
Lindsay-Abaire's script is beautifully willing to examine the tiniest aspects of grief in a placcid way. Dianne doesn't overplay the humour of this anecdote, it's as mellow as her character's natural disposition.
She said: 'I wanna be there, Nat. I wanna share in your grief.' And I said, 'Well, it’s not working. You plant your fat ass in that chair every freakin’ day!'
[You did not say that! You said fat ass? Becca asks, almost a surrogate for the audience. We’re similarly surprised.]
And then she sucks up all my coffee. I said, 'I don’t see you leaving with any of this alleged grief you’re sharing. In fact the only thing you do take out of here are my cinnamon buns.'
So, I never saw her again obviously. I feel guilty now. I do.
She pauses to reasses to Becca's amused cries of dissent.
You’re right, I don’t. I don’t miss her at all.
This first monologue is an hour into the film but it's the first easy and sincere conversation between this mother and daughter. Dianne is playing a significant memory of Nat's but the film is ultimately concerned with Becca's journey and here we finally see her relax. Nat’s ultimate function in the film is to present Becca with a way through her grief. Sure their situations are different, but Becca, initially resentful of Nat's hovering, comes to value her presence. That's why Wiest's second, more profound, monologue is my favourite moment of the film.
With the packing away of Danny's things done, Nat and Becca move to the basement. The scene is sad but never mawkish. There is no climatic moment of cathartic sobbing (at least not yet) but Becca asks the unanswerable unavoidable question that everyone who loses a loved one asks.
Does it ever go away?
Nat’s sagacious answer is nothing like a copout.
No. I don’t think it does. Not for me it hasn’t. And it’s going on eleven years.
It changes, though. I don’t know how... The weight of it, I guess. At some point it becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out from under and carry around like a brick in your pocket. And, you even forget it for a while.
But then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is. Oh, right, that. Which could be awful, but not all the time. It’s kind of, not that you like it exactly but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. And so, you carry it around. No, it doesn’t go away. Which is….
The pause there is in the writing, but it's the pause in Dianne's recitation which makes it truly profound. This isn't Nat telling a joke to make Becca more comfortable, neither is it drunk Nat (like at the birthday party) spouting off oddities. It's the mother and her calmest and wisest, tapping into the grief that never goes away which is....
"Which is what?" Becca wants to know, "Which is what?"
Which is fine. Actually.
The two mini-monologues, one comedic and the other wise and calming exist as two opposing strands of Linsday-Abaire’s meditation on grief. The best thing about Rabbit Hole, which you’d never expect, is how sedate and warm it is. The only moment of raised voices occurs at the halfway mark, but otherwise it’s all quiet meditation and coping. Kidman’s Becca is so tightly wounded by grief that you tend to forget that, oh yes, Nat lost a grandchild, too. The screenplay doesn’t pitch her as a grieving grandmother, or even pitch her mentions of her dead son in the way you accept.
The second monologue encapsulates the way Dianne portrays Nat, too. The grief is a part of her, yes, but it’s not *her* completely. This scene comes twenty moments before the film ends and I see it as the moment which launches us into the coda. It’s fine. This is the moment Becca realizes that it’s okay to grieve, to feel badly. Dianne's warm voice never pulls focus from Kidman's aggressive central work, but it's a fine example of what StinkyLulu calls 'actressing from the edges' and Wiest has always excelled at it. It’s my favourite supporting performance of 2010, and as good as any to kick off the return of Monday Monologues.