Who's In It: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito
The Basics: Eight months after their young son is struck and killed by a car and its teenage driver, a suburban couple tries to piece their lives back together. Grief support groups put them into contact with therapy junkies and unwanted religious chatter, and their families and friends treat them awkwardly or just stay away entirely. Do they clean out his room? Give away his clothes? Sell the house? Have another baby? Split up? What little good news there is involves them not going away to a cabin in the woods populated with talking devil-animals and mutilating each other like the people in Antichrist. who were faced with similar circumstances.
What's The Deal: How do you make a film about the aftermath of a child's death without it turning into a miserable wallow in pain and and melodramatic meltdowns? How do you make it hopeful without seeming self-satisfied? More importantly, how do you keep it from becoming a hallucinogenic trip/psychic murder mystery like The Lovely Bones? Somehow director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and The Angry Inch) walked that slippery path without falling and cracking his spine. And yeah, it's still painful and sad. It's a movie about parental grief, after all. But there's a also pinhole of light and weird punctuating humor, too, and that keeps it all from feeling like an anvil in your lap.
The 12 (Bleak, Gray and Mournful) Days of Christmas: I've decided not to complain about the fact that these heavy-bummer movies are all released during the year-end holidays. Because now I believe that they serve an It's a Wonderful Life-ish purpose. They provide a kind of comfort for people who are already miserable for whatever reason, an empathetic voice amidst the blaring barking dog "Jingle Bells" of popular culture. Meanwhile, everyone else gets to feel lucky that life hasn't dealt them as crushing a blow. Yet.
Don't Call It A Comeback: I'm very happy to report that Nicole Kidman's forehead features actual human lines of expression and signs of real-life aging here. I can't be accused of meanness on this topic because not only does it genuinely concern me when any good actor does weird cosmetic stuff to themselves--and she's clearly done...who knows what--but also because Entertainment Weekly already printed an entire article about it. This role required a range of emotions and she delivers all of them face-first in a way that ought to win over even die-hard Kidman Haters.
Who Shouldn't Watch It Just Yet: Anyone who's actually been through this situation recently. You don't need some movie bossing you around, telling you how to feel. Turn on TCM and look at a Marx Brothers movie instead.