Sunday, November 02, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

This isn’t going to be nearly the rambling odyssey of words that it started out to be Thursday night when I got back from watching Rachel Getting Married. I was afraid when I started writing that it was going to be too rambling, so I put in a bit about how I don’t outline (and how that might be one of the reasons that I have been such a spectacular failure as a writer), and then I got into a lengthy bit about how watching The Silence Of The Lambs over and over when I was in high school had the unintended effect of training my eyes to see things that Jonathan Demme does as a director that are very unique to him - including intimate close-up shots and tight point-of-view shots that let the viewer see through the eyes of the character as the character observes people or scenes that no one else is seeing in quite the same way.

And The Silence Of The Lambs begat Philadelphia, which Demme directed two years later - and which has so many stylistic similarities to Lambs that I realized just how much I had learned about watching movies from watching Lambs over and over again. Philadelphia also featured a lot of the same crew who had worked on Lambs, as well as something like seven or eight cast members who had minor roles in both films. Philadelphia isn’t as good as Lambs, but it works for me in ways that it probably doesn’t work for most other people - because of how much I enjoy the way Jonathan Demme makes movies.

And Philadelphia begat Rachel Getting Married, though there are a dozen or so pictures in between; and I got the idea from watching the trailer that this was going to be another one of those movies that feels like a Jonathan Demme movie - even though the production, casting, and photography were all handled by different players than the ones who worked on the previous two films. The story, of a girl who checks herself out of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding and the dysfunctional family issues they are forced to deal with over the course of a long weekend, sounded interesting, too; and there was the chatter that this role would earn a lead acting Oscar nomination for Anne Hathaway.

I became a bit concerned when Heather at work told me that it wasn’t as good as she had hoped it would be - and she, too, was looking forward to it in large part because it was a Jonathan Demme picture. Heather could stop watching movies today and I could keep going at my current pace and would not catch up to her if I lived long enough for the Elves to decide to take me along with them to the Grey Havens. I was just a little bit worried when I sat down to watch it that I had blown it up too much in my mind and that it just might fail to live up to my expectations.

Before I get any further along, I have to mention that there is a critical plot point that I can’t even get close to writing about in this review. I haven’t read any of the film’s reviews yet, so I don’t know if this plot point is being written about, or to what degree it is being written about if people are writing about it; but I don’t feel like I can write about it, because I think you have to come to it on your own. Its impact on the film is tremendous, and the way it is revealed demonstrates an excellence in screenwriting that I think I am going to hope will be rewarded when the Oscars roll around next year.

Kym (Hathaway) checks herself out of rehab so she can go home to suburban Connecticut for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. There’s a strong sisterly bond between Rachel and Kym, but there is also considerable tension - both of which are evident in their first scene together when Rachel is trying on her dress and Kym comes wandering into the house smoking a cigarette.

Why Kym is in rehab is the critical plot point that I cannot reveal, but what I will say about it is that it is the epicenter of all of the tension between Kym and the rest of her immediate family. She takes the selfish view that she can use this weekend and the occasion of her sister’s wedding to complete one of those fabled “steps” toward recovery - making amends to the ones she has hurt. In doing so, she not only comandeers nearly every scene she is in - she actually seems to infect those scenes.

Hathaway imbues the role with intensity and passion, and really understands the dichotomy between the angry and frustrated Kym who is obsessed with ripping open the wounds of the past and the tormented and broken Kym who desperately needs to reconnect with her family - though she says quite plainly (in a group session) that she believes her own existence now to be worthless.

It’s all very loud and awkward (and occasionally violent) - all the more pronounced because of Demme’s intimate style of direction, which almost always places the viewer within the scene as party to the action, rather than as detached observer looking in from without - but there is nothing else for Kym to do; her recovery is blocked by her self-loathing, and her recovery is all she has left, the only place from which the rest of her life can proceed. It’s not explicitly stated whether she chooses consciously or subconsciously to use the occasion of her sister’s wedding to effect this necessary confrontation - though Hathaway plays Kym with a deliberate determination and keen sense of self-awareness (as opposed to self-consciousness) that makes the viewer all but certain that Kym knows exactly what’s going to go down when she goes home for her sister’s wedding.

As Kym careens toward a climactic confrontation, on the eve of Rachel’s wedding, with her estranged mother Abby (Debra Winger), a sense of fatalism develops in concert with the tragic realization that some wounds simply will never heal. The film concludes with Rachel’s wedding, a beautiful and non-traditional ceremony full of love and smiles and music music music - and it doesn’t for one second feel a bit like a ham-handed symbol of redemption. If it were a ham-handed symbol of redemption, it would present Kym as having completed her recovery, which has not happened. She goes back to rehab as the film ends. Her recovery is not complete - but the obstacle to that recovery, her persistent self-loathing, is gone.

Rachel Getting Married is an absolute gem - a nearly perfect film. (Can we please dispense with handheld cameras - unless you’re making a movie about some kids trying to scare up a witch in the Maryland woods?) I think it might be a bit too edgy to have a really big night at the Oscars, but Hathaway is a lock for a Best Actress nomination - and I think at this point she has to be considered the favorite to win (bearing in mind that a number of other films with probable Best Actress roles - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road - have yet to bow).


Ryan Micheel said...

No shit on the handheld cameras.

From here on I try to be vague, but if you haven't seen it and don't want to know anything it's probably best to not read on.
Here's why I think Rachel is only a good movie. After said event we are not mentioning by name happens, the point is hammered in by the plate incident and then again during another pivotal scene involving the mother. After the next scene, everything is all of a sudden O.K. Wow to not give away any plot points none of this makes sense. No, I don't really believe that the movie is saying everything is O.K. after this, but for the rest of the movie it plays like that. I also believe that in real life something can happen that can make all of the little insignificant things not matter. But the movie is not treating their problems like insignificant matters.

Robert Altman has said repeatedly about his own films that you can't really judge one of his films the fist time through because you are only getting to know the characters. I think that could very easily be true of Rachel Getting Married. I do want to see it again because I do think my opinion will go up, but for now I will settle with it being a good movie and not a great one.

Michael Maier said...

Okay, to determine if I go see it or not...

Does Anne get naked? That's all I need to know.

John-O said...

Technically, yes - but you can't really see much.

Ryan Micheel said...

Looking for nude Anne, you will be better served by Havoc or Brokeback Mountain.

Michael Maier said...

I WAS just joking. I like boobs, but I like Anne whether or not they're being shown.

I really liked "Becoming Jane" despite my difficulty in hearing the dialogue through the accents.