Tuesday, January 20, 2009
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.