Here’s a film that does not exploit its central traumatic element (the death of a child), but instead examines the emotions that follow 8 months after the event. Howie (Aaron Eckhart) and Becca (Nicole Kidman) are the grieving parents of the film, as they essentially go through the motions of their daily lives, contending with the memories of their child that are scattered through their material possessions. The material only acts as a cover for the trauma associated with the loss, as Becca and Howie struggle to ease their individual suffering. Becca rejects the aide of those in group therapy, whereas Howie embraces it and forms a flirtatious relationship with another grieving parents played by Sandra Oh. Becca, unemployed, agonizes over what should be done with her son’s possessions – are the drawings on the fridge, the toys in the room, the house itself, etc, going to help matters at all, or should they be removed from sight?
The performances are evenly matched and exemplary all-around, with David Lindsay-Abaire penning a strong script that understands some of the unspoken elements dealing with death as seen through parents. Mitchell, perhaps in an effort to keep attention on the actors, is oddly restrained. As the film begins to roar, he maintains the same sense of stylistic and visual framing that he does throughout the rest of the film, even in its quieter moments. In a way, it works to maintain an atmosphere of distress and stasis, but the lack of energy exhibited in his direction makes scenes that don’t involve both Eckhart and Kidman feel a bit dull.