Monday, November 10, 2008

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

The plain white print title for Rachel Getting Married hits the screen inside a square. It carries the simplicity of a "save the date" message jotted onto a dated box on a calendar. The first shot we see is of Kym (Anne Hathaway): hair unkempt, nursing a cigarette like a pacifier, and sitting on a bench outside a rehab center waiting on a ride from her father. It's not unlikely that on Kym's calendar, inside her room, inside that rehab center, was a reminder of "Rachel getting married". For as a fellow addict at an AA meeting confesses, it takes living one day at a time to cope with your guilt, disease, or addiction.

Yet that approach to life doesn't always gel with the world around you. When Kym arrives at her childhood home for her sister Rachel's wedding you can feel the slowness of her twelve step recovery going up against the mile-a-minute chaos of a household preparing for an elaborate backyard ceremony. This dichotomy is felt most heavily at the rehearsal dinner, which is a brilliantly executed extended scene of speeches and testimonials from around the table. Director Jonathan Demme could have shortened the scene, but doing so would have cut the emotional incline that leads up to Kym's moment.

In a verbose and semi self-obsessed speech, Kym's turn teeters on the edge and makes the audience as uncomfortanle as the characters on screen (Demme's camera bounces between the triangle of father, mother, and Rachel during Kym's monologue). It's the movie moment equivalent to the poster for Rachel Getting Married, where Kym's face is front and in-focus, hogging the space, while a bride and groom remain blurry and distant in the background.

The casting of Anne Hathaway was inspired. Demme must have noticed the actresses large, round, deep eyes contrasted by her still pinkish skin tone like that of a toddler, and dialed-in on a physicality that expressed what he envisioned in his mind. Though I think Hathaway's a talent, and I like her performance in Rachel Getting Married, I also find much of the hoopla over her alleged Oscar-bound performance to be very premature. What Hathaway gives to the role of Kym, and to the movie as a whole, mostly comes from Demme. In certain scenes, and especially when they are her own, you sense an unsureness or overextension of performance from Hathaway. One needs to give Demme credit for reeling her in and cutting around the missteps.

The same "in-training" quality can be felt in the script by Jenny Lumet. In the directorial hands of another, it's likely that Rachel Getting Married would be just another whiny, mid-90's, self-loathing slop fest. And though the hand-held camera and dim lighting of Declan Quinn is appropriate (and well executed) to Rachel Getting Married's subject matter, I must say I missed the pristine quality of usual Demme collaborator Tak Fujimoto and can't see how his style would have brought any less to the final product.

Demme hits his best notes as Rachel Getting Married winds down. After the ceremony, and during the reception, the girls' mother (Debra Winger) tries to sneak out. In a plea that felt like years in the making, Rachel says "wait... I want my mother and I want my sister" and embraces them with closed eyes and thirty years of intensity. Over Rachel's shoulder, Demme shoots the mother, eyes open, saying, "ok Rachel, ok" shoving off gently to get on her way with her new husband. Our confusion over the mom's behavior is identical to the two daughters. In that one moment, Demme makes us feel the gravity from a lifetime of never knowing a parent.

The next morning, as the wedding's best man Kieran (Mather Zickel) says to Kym, "call me if you need anything", she grins, dawning on an earlier scene where the two of them had a quickie in the basement. But Demme shoots Kieran's eye contact with Kym in close-up as he repeats to her "call me if you need anything". This emphasises the concern of Kieran - a fellow addict - cutting through any superficiality from the tryst they shared before.

Demme's film ends with a series of these simple, silent, and shared moments, each displaying exact emotions and answers for the audience but leaving the characters on sceen still twisting a bit, the way we believe they always will be. It's a novel trick. We see how plain the solutions to interpersonal conflicts can be when we're a third party watching fictionalized drama on a movie screen, yet we still walk out with our own unresolved issues in our pockets. It's like Demme is holding up that celluloid in front of our faces but we can't see the answers because they just come off like a bunch of still frames.

19 comments:

nick plowman said...

This of course just up my alley, and the sooner I see it, the better I will sleep at night.

Megan said...

I too am looking forward to it.

Jason Bellamy said...

Nice review. I'm behind on writing mine. I'm glad to see that you called attention to that sisters-mother hug at the end -- a scene that says much with all that is unsaid.

As for Hathaway's Oscar hype: I think the best performance in the film is by Rosemarie De Witt as Rachel. But Hathaway is prime Oscar bait: a young, beautiful actress coming into her own who has raked in at the box office and paid her dues in less glamorous roles.

The Oscars, as we know, are far from a perfect exercise. But especially in this forgettable year, if Hathaway wins a nomination, it won't be a crime. Fine by me.

PIPER said...

I saw this and have some thoughts. I will be back with them.

Marilyn said...

I've heard great things about this. When I was headed into a Shorts program at the film festival, one of the theatres in the multiplex was running this film. I was tempted to change theatres - after the Shorts program, I wished I had.

Rick Olson said...

Fox, a very nice review. I especially like the contrast of the slowness of Rachel's recovery with the "mile-a-minute chaos" of the wedding preps. Nice.

Fox said...

Jason & Piper-

Get your reviews up, yo! I'm curious to here them.

And Jason, I agree with you on Rosemarie De Witt. I also really liked Bill Irwin. I wish more directors would cast him. I'm afraid he may have pigeonholed himself when he played Mr. Noodle on Elmo's show.

Fox said...

Nick-

Is this out in South Africa yet? For some reason I though you had seen it, but maybe it was just b/c your mention it (and Anne Hathaway) so frequently on your blog. :)

Marilyn-

If you you go to see it with your husband dressed up in his Pan outfit, then I will reimburse you for the tickets (proof is needed, of course.)

Rick-

Thanks!

PIPER said...

Fox,

I don't write reviews, man. That takes time and thought and who has that shit.

No, I'll write about something different. Like how a wedding as a plot is a terrible writing crutch. One that despite all my misgivings I will always love.

Fox, I am unaware of your age or whether you have children or not, and it's not really any of my business, but as a father of two watching a movie that centers around the death of a child is very hard for me because in reality, it is the worst thing I can imagine. Ever. And to watch the father deal with it and try to brush it off knowing that he cannot confront those feeling one more time is effective and very tragic.

I also did not care for Hathaway's character. Not one bit. Her dependency is a result of her selfishness and it's hard to sympathize with a character like hers.

And lastly, I didn't much care much for the camera work. I appreciated the docu-style as it related to the parties, but not as much with the more intimate scenes. There was a moment when the camera was like a dogs-eye-view while Hathaway walked through the hallways and I thought, why is this? When the camera work gets in the way of the storytelling, that's not good.

But I did enjoy the Demme character reunion. Did you see Corman running a video camera at the end?

Marilyn said...

All that's left of that costume is the horns. And we see almost all movies for free. But thanks for offer, Fox.

Free the Arizona One!

Fox said...

"And we see almost all movies for free."

Marilyn-

Are you that couple that waits outside the EXIT doors - with their cans of soda and giant Mike and Ike box from Wal-Mart - and sneaks in when the cute lil' old lady leaves?

p.s. Thanks for your support on the Arizona One. Once I get some buttoms made, I will post a notice.

Fox said...

Piper-

I was looking for Roger Corman that whole time - after seeing his name in the opening credits - but I never saw him. DAMMIT!

And I think you are onto something with Hathaway's character and the difficulty in trying to sympathize with her. Maybe that was Ms. Lumet's intention with the screenplay, but after an initial viewing, I chalk it up to what I consider a mediocore to poor script.

I think Demme works with that and leaves it kind of hanging. You never really get the sense that the family has forgiven Kym for what she did (even though they may tell themselves they have). In that way, I appreciate Demme trying to create a portrait of a family carrying a lifelong burden such as they are.

But, yes. You've got me thinking about Kym and her selfishness. I do sympathize with her, but I think your reading - as a father (I'm not one, btw) - is interesting. Don't get me wrong, it is hard to sympathize with her, b/c she seems at times more frustrated with the fact that she can't move on than with the fact that she caused her family such grief.

Still, there are moments where I think Hathaway and Demme add touches that bring a depth to Kym that isn't apparent on the surface. Like, for example, the shot of her dancing to the drum music at the wedding. All of the sudden she catches herself having fun and stops awkwardly. It's a strange moment that's carries confusion for the viewer, and I think moments like that work in building sympathy for Kym. Again, I have my doubts that such things were included in the original script.

debbie said...

Mr. Fox,

As someone with a short attention span, it would be of great benefit for you to label your reviews with a star system or thumbs up/thumbs down. That way, I don't have to read your posts, but I can still gage your reaction! All these words. Words, words, words. Who has time to read anymore?

Perhaps, this would help commercialize and market your blog? And, then you can make lots of money.

Your friend,
guess who.

PS. As your (close) friend, I'm assuming you have philisophical motivations as to why you're refraining from commercialized rating systems. Some sort of rebellion, assertion of independence. Fair enough.




:)

Fox said...

Dear Debbie-

My friend, my companion, my person that I can always rely on for the brutal truth! :)

You make a good point about having a rating system, and, really, my reason for not having one is pretty brief and lame: I'm still very HTML illiterate and haven't found a way to best post a rating. I'm not against doing it, I just kinda went without it and never looked back.

I supposed I could just give it a number score at the bottom, but I would like something kind of unique and "official" looking. You know?

But, seriously, thanks for the advice. It's always welcome and appreciated! Again, your point is a good one b/c I often go to sites - like Metacritic - and look at the ratings so I can see where certain critics stand w/o having to read their reviews before seeing it.

PIPER said...

Fox,

I owe you a response to your response.

Your comment about the scene where Kym catches herself enjoying the moment is a fantastic scene and to me, the one true touching moment of the film.

And I think what you should do for reviews is to not even write any words, just give a number between 1 and 10 to tell everyone how you liked it.

Slayton said...

Brilliant review. This film was amazing - and overwhelming. The characters were excellent and the film itself was very real to me, seeing as I basically used to BE Kym. I wised up, fortunately.

Elmer said...

It cannot have effect in reality, that is what I think.
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