' Cinema Romantico: Rachel Getting Married

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

I think it happened. In fact, I'm pretty sure it did. If it didn't, I truly can't wait until it does. All this is to say that yesterday I think I saw the best film of 2008. Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married", a title that both says it all and doesn't begin to, is pretty much perfect. The direction is fantastic, the writing is marvelous, the acting is uniformly sound, and standing at the center of it all is a layered, staggering, shattering performance by Anne Hathaway as the sister of the title character. It remains to be seen whether or not Hathaway will win the Best Actress Oscar but I know this (and I say it as someone who has never been overly impressed by her acting): she sure as hell should.


Kym (Hathaway) is a recovering addict, has been for 10 years, and is currently mired in rehab. She is released for the weekend to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) to kind, soft-spoken Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, who in real life doubles as a founding member of the infintely amazing band TV on the Radio and don't presume they didn't cast him for that reason) that is to be held at the family's sprawling Connecticut estate.

This, of course, is not all, but what the script by Jenny Lumet (who I read today is the daughter of renowned director Sidney "Dog Day Afternoon" Lumet) does is not force the drama. What I mean when I say that is her script uses a wedding spread out over the weekend as its structure. It follows the preparation and the ceremony beat-by-beat and lets the drama play itself out within these moments.

Kym arrives home and instantly becomes angered to learn a friend of Rachel's and not she will be maid of honor. She won't let it go. And we see, whether she can help it or not, Kym wants it all to be about her, and maybe this has been her primary problem all along. And maybe Rachel knows it. We see a scene in which Father-In-Law and Son-In-Law stage a contest to find out who can load the dishwasher the fastest as the family looks on. I know how that might sound in print but what the scene does is show the two men connecting without one or the other saying aloud, "Boy, we're really connecting, aren't we?" And then the scene flips and, wouldn't you know it, makes it about Kym. There is a scene in which an Unexpected Pregnancy is announced and I know that seems cliched but notice its placement in this movie. It is put where it is for a reason and is used not as a way to "shock" the audience but as ammunition by the character.

The direction by Demme includes a wandering camera, moving around the house, in and out of rooms, many, many handheld shots, that works not to lend it a pseudo-documentary feel but to put us, the audience, in that house with everyone else. We're there, we're right alongside them, we're experiencing things as they do. None of this feels pre-determined. It's all authentic.

The authenticity is reinforced by the decision not to use a regular movie score and instead have all the music of the film - and there is a lot - played by people in the movie. The two families coming together because of this wedding are different - one is white, one is black, but no one ever says this because why should they? They obviously don't care - and this gives space for rock and jazz and classical and much more. The scene over the closing credits is not to be missed. It seems like a throwaway, and doesn't fundamentally change a thing, but is this not one woman finding solace in music? It's overwhelmingly important, I think.

And so is Hathaway. This is monumental work and should crack her future wide open. She pulls the trick DeNiro used to wherein she somehow morphs into a completely different person. It's not just that her hair is chopped shorter, but she seems paler and more frail. Clinging to her cigarettes like life preservers, clearly affected by a mother (Debra Winger, that great actress who only turns up sparingly in movies these days) who makes both entrances and exits at the wrong times because she puts herself first, Kym wobbles on a tender thread of a tightrope between immense happiness and deep sadness, sometimes as if she has one foot in each world simultaneously. She is affected by everything, perhaps too much. Damn near each scene takes her through a full palette of emotion and never more stunningly than the breathless monlogue in which she offers her toast at a pre-wedding ceremony to Rachel. This entire sequence is great and feels just like real life but you feel Kym's inevitable speech looming over it all, and when it comes it's atypical because Hathaway never goes overboard one way or the other. She doesn't fly off the handle nor does she rise to the occassion and turn sentimental. It finds the perfect middle ground and becomes at once horrifying and tragically moving.

"Rachel Getting Married" could have just been about a wedding (like Robert Altmann's "A Wedding" which was slight) but it's Hathaway's Kym that makes it so much more. You have to let go, whether your problems are big or small, and maybe there is no difference when it comes to the issues of life, you know? They're all big. But you gotta' let them go.

As I walked home a couple stanzas that Adebimpe wrote and sang in his band played over and over in my head and I think could work as the synopsis I sincerely apologize for having failed to give.

Kindly reverse the order
Of the options you've laid before you
The needle, the dirty spoon
The flames and the fumes
Just throw them out tonight

Don't keep it silent and tortured
Or shove it under the floorboards
Your busted heart will be fine
In its tell tale time
So give it up tonight

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