Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married has the potential to be a terrible movie. There's the whole hand-held camera thing. Then there's the "dead-kid" subplot. And to top it all off, there's Anne Hathaway of The Princess Diaries fame in the lead role. But when I read the reviews, which were, for the most part, great, I was intrigued.

Jonathan Demme, the director, is most famous for 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. He's also the man who brought us the stupid and unnecessary remake of The Manchurian Candidate. But then there's Philadelphia, so all is forgiven. In other words, Demme is a good director. This new film is an attempt at some sort of indie hit . . . but what Demme ends up with is a pretty good mainstream movie that touches on some hardcore angst.

Kym (Hathaway)'s first day back from rehab just happens to be the weekend of her sister (Rosemary DeWitt)'s wedding to a man she's never met. Chain-smoking through the house, Kym tries her darndest to avoid her sweet but overbearing father, her loveable and successful (she's getting her Ph.D.!) sister, and the sinking feeling that she's raining on everyone's parade.

At first, Kym comes off as a spoiled, awkward brat, whose addiction is probably based in some overall Salingeresque malaise. You know, some pretentious fucking white-ass emotional drama that really if she took a step back and looked around she could probably get over. Think Noah Baumbach, think New York intellectuals, think total and utter bullshit.

However, Demme takes a sharp turn away from Baumbach and towards Ang Lee's The Ice Storm in the revelation that Kym's addiction has caused the family more pain than one can possibly imagine. In one incredible scene, Hathaway really proves she's got more acting chops than we all thought when she describes how she cannot be forgiven for what she's done . . . and that she's not sure she wants to believe in a God who could forgive her. The emotional punishment and guilt seething through these characters is palpable.

Debra Winger returns to acting for the first time in nearly ten years in her performance as Rachel and Kym's estranged mother, and she does an fantastic job of unleashing all the subconscious, strained energy between the two realities: this family's life before Kym's accident and their life after the accident. And Bill Irwin's subtle and nuanced performance as Kym's father is absolutely heartbreaking, right down to the details. When he receives some unexpected good news from Rachel, his hands shake as he loads the dishwasher.

All said, the movie goes on far too long (there are several scenes of wedding-related activities that could be cut down by about thirty minutes in total); the ethic wedding explosion is a little over the top and frankly, boring. But the performances in this film are well-worth watching. The frantic bouncing of the camera juxtaposed with the quiet, rare familial gestures in this film are painful to watch. This is not a feel-good movie. But it is a lesson in forgiveness, which is perhaps one we could all stand to learn.

1 comment:

fakebook said...

let's not forget that jonathan demme also directed the movie adaptation of 'beloved,' which was quite good. and lest we forget his greatest contribution to culture? neil young's 'heart of gold' concert documentary! i probably won't see 'rachel getting married' (there's something about most american comedies that i find, well, insipid) but its premise about a dysfunctional family gathering is similar to an amazing movie i saw at the new york film festival, arnaud desplechin's 'a christmas tale.' it's scheduled for release in november. i highly recommend it. (and, no, i do not work for studio canal.)