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Rabbit Hole sparkles, Blue Valentine doesn’t, Made In Dagenham falls in-between

by Mark Burger

Rabbit Hole is an excellent screen rendition of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, adapted by the author himself and beautifully realized by director John Cameron Mitchell and lead actors Nicole Kidman and Aarn Eckhart.

Becca and Howie are an affluent, attractive couple trying to overcome the death of their young son, accidentally hit by a car driven by a neighborhood teenager (Miles Teller). Kidman scored the film’s only Academy Award nomination (as Best Actress), but Eckhart matches her with one of his best performances. The two have a palpable onscreen chemistry that goes a very long way toward making the film work as well as it does.

Rabbit Hole is a tearjerker, to be sure, but one that hits all the right notes without overplaying them. It doesn’t push too hard and it doesn’t push too far. The characters are not defined by their grief but affected by it, and it’s in Becca and Howie’s attempts to rebuild the pieces of their lives — both together and (usually) apart — that the story strikes an ideal balance between sensitivity and believability.

Nor does the film take any shortcuts or offer any easy answers. In the end, reflective of real life, there is no definitive closure. Becca and Howie have come a long way, but is it enough to save their marriage? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s easy to admire, and be affected, by the steps they’ve taken.

The exemplary performances of Kidman and Eckhart are ably supported by those of Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, Tammy Blanchard, Jon Tenney and reliable Giancarlo Esposito. This is a powerful and persuasive human drama, one that earns every teardrop.

A dreary portrait of a marriage gone wrong, director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance’s wellpublicized Blue Valentine is something of a latter-day Scenes From a Marriage — except that this marriage is a lost cause from the get-go.

The problem is that it takes the unhappy couple nearly two hours to figure that out, whereas it takes the audience far less time. By then, it may be too late.

That unhappy couple is Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), and the film shifts back and forth and time through their relationship, from its very beginnings to what is an increasingly bitter end.

By emphasizing the negative aspects of the couple’s relationship, there is little sense of what brought them together, although there is an overpowering sense of what’s driving them apart. There are precious few interludes of joy or happiness. They’re not happy together, and only slightly less unhappy when apart. Spending time with them is not a pleasant, or even particularly insightful, experience — although this heavy-handed film certainly portrays it as such.

Gosling and Williams (who earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress), good actors both, dig deep into their characters to portray the depths of marital discord, and unashamedly strip down for sex scenes that were considered so explicit that the film was originally branded with an NC-17 rating.

Sex scenes and the subsequent controversy aside, Blue Valentine isn’t a particularly interesting film. The characters are not only miserable and dissatisfied, but they’re not sympathetic, either. They’re irritating. Whether together or apart, clothed or unclothed, Dean and Cindy are so miserable so much of the time that they’re not very good company. Theirs is not a relationship worth saving, which is also fairly evident from the get-go. Trouble is, you’ve got to watch it fall even more apart during the next two hours.

In 1968, the women machinists at the Ford motor plant in Dagenham, England numbered about 200 to the men’s 5,000-plus. In an effort to better their lot — and, make no mistake, these ladies deserved it — the women went on strike and brought the plant to an absolute standstill.

This remarkable tale of true-life rebellion against corporate powers is a quintessential underdog story, one in which the underdog has his (or her, in this case) day, and has been dramatized in director Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham , which offers an oddly sunny, gently satirical take on the story. It’s not a bad film, yet not as powerful as it might have been had it been rendered with a more forceful approach.

Sally Hawkins acquits herself nicely (and was heavily touted for awards consideration by the studio) as Rita O’Grady, a wife and mother who unexpectedly found herself at the forefront of one of England’s most unlikely, and unexpected, labor revolts.

Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Kenneth Cranham, Richard Schiff, Rupert Graves, gorgeous Jaime Winstone and the always-welcome Bob Hoskins all perform their supporting duties competently, although Hawkins is clearly front and center throughout.

The film makes the proper, if expected, points about sexism, about standing up for one’s rights and the propensity of some corporations to overlook its employees (nothing new there!). Yet there’s a distinct lack of tension here. There’s always the feeling, whether one knows the actual outcome of the story or not, that it’ll all work out in the end. Which it does.

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