Why is it so hard to stay in the present with the movies? The news cycle is constantly asking us to look ahead a year or two. Just barely came to grips with performances we might be loving in 2009 and already we have to think about Nicole Kidman's 2010? Alas, it can't be helped. When it comes to Nicole Kidman we can't look away.
She's taking over Cynthia Nixon's (Sex & The City) TONY winning role as the grieving mother in the hit play Rabbit Hole. Aaron Eckhart takes over for silver fox John Slattery (Mad Men) as the grief-stricken father. Emmy regular and TONY winner Tyne Daly was the third name actor in the Broadway production, playing the wife's mother. No word yet on which movie star will be getting her part. This is yet a further reminder that it's nearly impossible for actors to be cast in the screen versions of their stage successes, even when they're already known quantities. You only get lead movie roles if you're an 8 figure salaried movie star.
News about the transfer of the Pulitzer winning Rabbit Hole spread like wildfire Thursday. I'm not quite sure what prompted the sudden news surge since Nicole Kidman was booked for this film as early as January 2007 . Maybe it's that the whole thing is more real now with Aaron Eckhart in place and none other than TFE favorite John Cameron Mitchell (himself a Broadway vet) signed to direct.
<-- John Cameron Mitchell (right) with fellow firestarter Bruce LaBruce last year. John is 45 years old and he still looks like he's 25. I hate him.
It's that last bit that's most interesting. John Cameron Mitchell has made one widely acclaimed outré miracle (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and one divisive but still award winning outré picture (Shortbus). He has never directed someone else's material for the screen. It makes sense to employ him for a theatrical conversion since he understands the medium but why Rabbit Hole? It doesn't seem to fit into what we know of his sensibility. It's a relatively conventional story of a husband and wife whose child is accidentally killed. It won stellar reviews for its performances and its incisive look at grief but studies of grief aren't exactly untrodden ground at the movies and the material isn't out there in any way. Its detractors claimed it wasn't theatrical enough for the stage. It was more like a screenplay already.
I hope Mitchell has an interesting take on it. But even if it remains only a straightforward quality drama, good on Kidman. She can't be stopped. If there's a great or challenging director alive that she wouldn't crawl across beds of glass to work with, it's probably just because she hasn't heard of him/her yet. For all the heat she takes in the press for her box office returns being disproproportionate to her salary and her "weird" taste in unconventional projects (i.e. interesting failures or thorny near-masterworks), she'll have the last laugh. Most movie stars are beautiful and talented. Those things are givens. Few of them seem to understand the importance of working with auteurs. They concentrate instead on finding mainstream hits, franchises and middlebrow prestige pieces. Kidman has done that, too, sure. But the best thing about her is her willingness to throw herself down the artistic rabbit hole and into the wilds of auteurial visions. I'm a staunch defender of Kidman on this front. Think of Dogville, Birth, Eyes Wide Shut, Portrait of a Lady, Moulin Rouge! and even the ones that didn't work like Fur and Australia.
I'm of the opinion that stars that serve auteurs first and foremost have the best chance of being remembered once they're dead. Uma Thurman has had a continually rocky career. Will she be remembered in 50 years time? Absolutely! Playing muse for Tarantino seals the deal. Stars that don't challenge themselves by working with real auteurs tend to fade, no matter how blinding their spotlight currently is. Box office is mostly irrelevant to the legacy equation. Consider this current example: Julianne Moore. She started her acting career in the 80s but found her first substantial fame in 1995. Guess which movie people associate with her ascendance: Assassins which grossed $30 million or [safe] which grossed $512,000? That's what I'm talking about! And that's with only 14 years of distance. Imagine what happens to the collective cultural memory in 50 years time.
So... Nicole Kidman. Mega famous now. Mega famous forever. Add John Cameron Mitchell to her ever expanding list of auteur conquests. Cross your fingers that their collaboration makes Rabbit Hole really sing and sting on the screen.