Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rachel Getting Married


Rachel Getting Married returns Jonathan Demme to the spot where he has belonged for a very long time, namely among the most vital and greatest of all American filmmakers. This searing and heartfelt film, his first non-documentary work in nearly five years, is his best since his triumphant Silence of the Lambs way back in 1991, and one of the greatest of all of his works. Mixing bittersweet comedy with heavy unsettling drama and a sharp directorial hand, Rachel Getting Married is vintage Jonathan Demme and its among the most alive and successful productions of 2008.


It’s no coincidence that my favorite films of 2008 (Rachel Getting Married, The Wrestler, Vicki Christina Barcelona and even Rambo) all have one thing in common, namely that they are all essentially character studies of very flawed, complicated and profoundly human individuals. None more so than Kym, the tragic lead of Rachel Getting Married played beautifully by Anne Hathaway who immediately joins the great Jonathan Demme heroines (Griffith in Something Wild, Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob and Foster in Silence of the Lambs) in a role that is simultaneously heartbreaking, frustrating and gut-wrenching.


Kym has always been the screw up of her family. Drunk or stoned since her early teens and damaged by her older sister’s accomplishments even earlier, she has just been released from a nine month stint in rehab when Rachel Getting Married opens up, just in time for her sister’s marriage to a charismatic and intelligent young man named Sydney.
Scripted by first time screen-writer, actress Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married is one of the most authentic feeling productions of the year. Lumet’s look at an upper class family of artists and success stories, and the fragile little girl seemingly always one step behind has the kind of honest and knowing feel that is missing from the similar modern works by the likes of Noah Baumbach. It’s a refreshingly down to earth and unforced work that is handled beautifully in Demme’s hands, who directs with the kind of wild energy that has been missing in his films since the ferociously funny Married to the Mob twenty years ago.


Shot on location in Connecticut with a huge ensemble cast, including Demme’s mentor Roger Corman and several musicians he has worked with in the past, Rachel Getting Married is the sort of American film that populated cinemas in the seventies but is rarely seen anymore. While we still have many character based pieces, it is the characters driving Rachel Getting Married that makes it seem so out of step with its time. The characters, ranging from abrasive to irritating but never less than realistic, Demme and Lumet bravely populate their film with are so incredibly vivid and kudos should be given to the entire cast for their work. Also, Demme’s brave directorial decision to deliberately draw the film out with a seemingly unending series of musical interludes at its climax perfectly matches the feeling I’m sure all of us can share of a wedding that has gone on far too long. A particular shot towards the end of the film of a hung-over bridesmaid stumbling to the bathroom in her underwear is one of the most perfectly realized and brilliant moments in Demme’s illustrious career, and Rachel Getting Married is filled with those kind of bristling and funny asides that the award winning director has always excelled at.
Shot beautifully by Leaving Las Vegas (and frequent Demme collaborator) Declan Quinn in a hand held style reminiscent of John Cassavetes color productions of the seventies, Rachel Getting Married is a cause for celebration for those of us who have wanted Jonathan Demme to deliver the kind of film he used to do every few years with seemingly ease. It’s a beautifully gut-punching film that I preferred far and away to more acclaimed works of the year like Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt and even The Dark Knight.


Of course none of it would work without Anne Hathaway. I can see why people might find her Kym to be an unforgivable an unsympathetic character but I had the opposite reaction. Perhaps due to the fact that I have struggled with some of the same issues in my own life, I found Hathaway’s work here to be among the most personally resonate and remarkable of the decade and frankly I will have a hard time with anyone else winning the Best Actress award this year.


Like most of his greatest works (Silence of the Lambs excluded) Jonathan Demme will be ignored when the Oscar nominations are announced this week. His film will at least get a couple but it won’t be enough for a production much more subtle and daring than most of the film’s honored this year. It doesn’t matter though; I walked out of the theater feeling like I had witnessed the resurrection of one of my favorite American directors and that was award enough in my book.


Tony Dayoub said...

Don't know if you read my opinion on this film, but I'm of two minds on this one. While I found the performances and family situations to be searing, I wasn't sure that the wedding as portrayed made a good fit.

There was something that struck me as phony about all the musicians and the Hindu rituals that seemed to feel intrusive. Like Demme wasn't confident to let the drama stand on its own unquirky legs. Or like I was learning more about Demme's beliefs and likes than the characters'.

I do think it's a step in the right direction, back towards the something Wild, Married to the Mob Demme I loved. And seeing 'Sister Carol' back, virtually unchanged since the early days seemed to signal that.

I'm conflicted on this film.

aaron said...

"I walked out of the theater feeling like I had witnessed the resurrection of one of my favorite American directors and that was award enough in my book."

I had the same feeling. And I can't wait to see what he does next.

Now I'll need to go back and check out both THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - I missed those in their initial releases and haven't caught up with them.

PIPER said...


Leaving the theater I didn't care much for this movie - mostly due to its painful subject matter. A story around the loss of a child is a lot to take and is not a place I like to go.

But damn if this hasn't stuck with me and I would say it's the best film of the year because it does what Doubt and Frost/Nixon and even Slumdog doesn't do. It risks everything. In its characters. In its writing. In its camera work. It's a big, fat, raw piece of meat and I love it for that.

I wrote about the dishwasher load-off in the middle of the film as such a strange and yet ballsy scene.

If I had one criticism it would be that the camera work gets in its own way a bit. Specifically at the beginning when Kym is revisiting the home. The camera is all over the place. It was more intrusive and less voyeuristic. But as the wedding went on, it was perfect.

I saw Corman in the credits and spent the entire movie looking for him. At the end, there he was, running the camera.

Keith said...

Hey Jeremy. I've been wanting to see this film. I definitely plan to see it on DVD. I'm a huge fan of Anne. It's great to see her do some powerful work here. It's also awesome to see Demme return to top form. Great write-up on this film.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tony,
The wedding scenario worked fine for me as it allowed Demme to place Kym's already fragil state of being within the family in one of the most difficult situations possible. The idea of a wedding as the birth of something faced with Kym's role as someone whose life is a constant reminder of loss was interesting to me.
We do agree on Sister Carol! Man, she looked just like she did twenty years ago.

Thanks Aaron,
I know you are a fellow Demme admirer so I am thrilled you loved the film as well. I actually havea soft spot for Truth about Charlie, although it is a mess (but a sort of charming one) whereas Manchurian just feels unnecessary. I can't wait to see what he does next as well.

Thanks Piper,
The film hasn't left my thoughts either since I saw it and I appreciate your thoughts on it. I particularly love this passage of your comments:

"But damn if this hasn't stuck with me and I would say it's the best film of the year because it does what Doubt and Frost/Nixon and even Slumdog doesn't do. It risks everything. In its characters. In its writing. In its camera work. It's a big, fat, raw piece of meat and I love it for that."

Very well put and I agree...also the Dish-Washer scene was just incredible and I wish I would have made mention of it here.

Thanks Keith,
Anne just snagged an Oscar nom! I have a feeling it's Kate's year but I am glad at least she wa recognized for this spectacular performance.

Ned Merrill said...

Believe it or not, Jeremy, I still haven't caught RACHEL yet, but I'm heartened by your comparisons to prime Demme, particularly SOMETHING WILD and MARRIED TO THE MOB.

On the Demme front, maybe, just maybe, Criterion and Paramount will hatch a deal to make CITIZEN'S BAND (aka HANDLE WITH CARE) part of the Criterion Collection, since they have had such a fruitful partnership lately (ACE IN THE HOLE, WHITE DOG, if..., THE FURIES, NAKED PREY, etc.).

Kotto said...

i just finished watching rachel and i was really blown away by how raw and real it is. it's an incredible film that illustrates in a very honest way how blood is thicker than water.