At the Movies: Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole

Welcome to The Depressing Season. The holidays are over. The candy is eaten. The toys are broken. The Christmas lights are off. It’s dark. It’s cold. Spring is far away.

You might think going to the movies would be a release, but think again. This is also The Depressing Season at the cinema. Some filmmakers and studios think the way to critical acclaim and awards glory is to explore the dark side of life. And they dump all these movies at the end of the year to get the critics’ attention and awards buzz. Then they make their way to St. Louis in January and February.

It’s almost enough to make you slit your wrists. Then wait a few years and someone will make a movie about it.

Two such movies open this weekend: “Blue Valentine,” the story of a couple coming together and falling apart, and “Rabbit Hole,” the story of a couple trying to cope with the death of their son.

That’s entertainment!

Based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Rabbit Hole” stars Nicole Kidman as Becca and Aaron Eckhart as husband Howie. Becca and Howie are having trouble dealing with their young son’s death. Howie seeks comfort in support groups and watching a video of the boy on his phone. Becca prefers to withdraw.

Their different ways of dealing with grief slowly pull them apart, especially once Becca begins a relationship with the young man (Miles Teller) responsible for their son’s death.

Powerful stuff with strong performances by Kidman and Eckhart. If you want to watch two people wallow in grief and come out the other side, enjoy.

——————–

Remember that quirky comedy from last year, “(500) Days of Summer,” about the rise and fall of a couple that is told by jumping back-and-forth in time? “Blue Valentine” is just like that — with the quirky comedy replaced with soul-crushing heartbreak.

Michelle Williams stars as Cindy, a pre-med student whose plans are derailed when she hooks up with Dean (Ryan Gosling), a young man working for a moving company. He’s smitten with her, they fall in love, marry, have a child, and settle in.

Dean, now working as a painter, is content with wife and adores his daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka).  Cindy, who gave up her plans for her family, now works as a nurse and sometimes feels she’s raising two kids, not one. Dean has no ambition and Cindy has had hers beaten out of her.

In an attempt to get them out of their funk, Dean schedules a night at the “future room” in a sleazy motel. The future room has all the appeal and claustrophobia of a space capsule. They get drunk and have sex (in a scene so explicit it almost earned the film an NC-17 rating) but they’re clearly not making love anymore.

The film crisscrosses time to contrast the giddy, early days of young love to the mundane, lifeless present. I guess we’re supposed to feel equally for both characters, but it’s easy to see why Cindy finally has enough of Dean. He may truly love his wife and daughter but he’s a mess and can be cruel as well as loving. He’s not someone anyone could live with happily ever after.

Like “Rabbit Hole,” “Blue Valentine” is a moving, sad tale with  two impressive performances at its core. But it’s no feel-good romance. In fact, if you’re looking for the opposite of romantic comedy, it would be this.

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