Highly Mediocre: ‘Rabbit Hole,’ ‘The King’s Speech’

There’s a special batch of dramatic movies that are prime forensics fodder. Sometimes they start off as plays, (Rabbit Hole), other times, they are the work of one dogged screenwriter (The King’s Speech). There’s usually something about the film that makes it amenable to a Dramatic Interpreter; a physical impediment of some kind, or some sort of unspeakable tragedy.

As Forensics pieces go, these realistic dramas, in which two high school students clad in business attire must convince the audience that they are a grieving husband and wife or a stuttering monarch and an Australian speech therapist–when done well–are often very successful. They draw you in.

But after the applause has died down and the high school students are high school students once more,  you realize that the piece is not that good. It’s just alright. The performances were what moved you.

Take Rabbit Hole. As a film, it’s tolerable. Interesting for about two thirds, then insufferable towards the end. (Spoiler):Her meet -and -greet with the guy that accidentally ran over her toddler son feels manipulative. The whole brother who died of a heroin overdose does too much as a plot device–it reminds me a little of Rachel Getting Married in that regard. As I watched the film, it was very clear that it was a film, wholly made up, based on some sort of general reality (there are upper middle class parents who have lost young children), but falling prey to plot machinations that rob it of its full potential to resonate and elicit unprovoked tears.  Becca’s (Nicole Kidman) whole working-class backstory felt like an overburdened attempt to imbue added depth to the character, but while Becca got the mother and the sister and the dead brother, Howie (Aaron Eckhart) got pot and Sandra Oh. We don’t even know what he does for a living. In other films, knowing just enough about a character can be effective, but in Rabbit Hole, not knowing enough about both characters especially Howie, makes it difficult to care. So the overall consensus for Rabbit Hole ends up being, Nicole Kidman can act. Something most people knew already.

Then there’s The King’s Speech. Yet another Best Picture winner, yet another Highly Mediocre film. Bare bones, stripped away of all its cultural references, this film is about a man with a stutter who hires a man to help him with said stutter. Dressed up, covered in the lard of nostalgia, driving string music and English royalty, this movie builds up to one of the most monumental days in world history, King George VI giving a wartime speech stutter-less. You’d have thought the king himself was declaring war on Germany. (No, apparently that was the prime minister’s job.) At one point in the film, Bertie (Colin Firth) as his family calls him, makes mention of his own political impotence, but that ultimately isn’t enough to rid this movie of its own inflated ego. The much more interesting story, the one about Bertie’s older brother Edward and his American lover, Wallis Simpson is relegated to the sidelines.

Regardless, it’s a well-acted film, so is The Rabbit Hole. This is why it’s okay to latch the adverb, ‘highly’ onto the adjective ‘mediocre.’ Because these films aren’t just mediocre. They’re watchable. They don’t leave you bemoaning the state of aughties cinema. They’re not The Town which is just plain, old run-of-the-mill mediocre or Girl, Interrupted  or Corrina, Corrina or Slumdog Millionaire–movies with wildly varying critical and commerical success but which are all, to this objective viewer, mediocre.

On another note, choosing examples of mediocre movies is harder than you might think.


One Comment on “Highly Mediocre: ‘Rabbit Hole,’ ‘The King’s Speech’”

  1. Bunny says:

    I haven’t seen Rabbit Hole, but you are so dead-on about King’s Speech. That movie was so boring and oh my gosh, Colin Firth??? Best actor? He really is a sub-par, bland actor, in a sub-par bland film. I wasted 2 hours of my life that I can’t get back. Geoffrey Rush is always a pleasure though.

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