Sun 12 Oct 2008
Don’t look at me like that … I’m sorry … take me back!
2008 GOLDEN MUG WINNER:
Best Original Screenplay (Jenny Lumet)
2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:
Best Actress (Anne Hathaway)
Best Supporting Actress (Rosemarie DeWitt)
Finding a film about family dysfunction in the indie cinema scene is sort of like finding water when you fall out of a boat. Pretty much every film has an element of it and that’s okay, because the perfect family doesn’t really exist – unless there’s a heavy dose of denial and/or medication being supplied.
“Rachel Getting Married” isn’t subtle when it comes to these issues and that only makes it better for the audience, as we are treated to a harsh and powerful look at a family torn apart by a single event in their past. As the film begins, most of them are living in denial, trying to move on with their lives without ever really dealing with the core problems. This tension is evident from frame one and doesn’t dissipate until well after the credits roll and you’ve found another activity to distract yourself with.
Much of that credit goes to screenwriter Jenny Lumet and director Jonathan Demme. Lumet penned a deeply haunting script, developing each family member’s despair as the film progresses. Each of them cope with their emotional trauma in different ways and seeing their defensive layers peeled away like an onion was a cinematic treat.
Demme is a fantastic filmmaker who has spent most of the last decade on documentaries (Just try to forget the terrible 2002 remake of “Charade”, “The Truth About Charlie”; I’m trying not to pin that on him since casting Mark Wahlberg could never fill Cary Grant’s shoes).
With “Rachel Getting Married”, he returns to the feature film format with a vengeance. The story is in your face and heart wrenching from the start. Watching this suburban Connecticut family decompose, come together and decompose again is one of those cinematic treats that garner the attention of misers like myself.
Of course, to bring it all together you need good actors and this film definitely hit the mark – casting both Anne Hathaway (intelligently against type) and Rosemarie DeWitt. Hathaway is best known for playing the sweet, cute roles that have endeared her to tweens the world over. She tried to depart from her mold with “Havoc” but that film was a mess and her role in “Brokeback Mountain” really didn’t carry much weight – unless you count the terrible make-up and hair job as they tried to age her.
With “Rachel Getting Married”, Hathaway sheds any doubts about her ability to envelope a dark character. As a recovering alcoholic, her role in the family is the wrecking ball and her presence at the wedding is like a beautiful, dark cloud just waiting to burst. As the film progresses, the back story to the role unfolds and fills in the gaps – providing explanation to the tension ever present within the family circle (though most of it isn’t that much of a surprise).
There are moments when Hathaway is just too beautiful and composed to fully disappear into her character but overall, I found her performance to be powerful and moving and quite possibly she could factor into the awards consideration once this year is said and done; especially because there are rarely too many good female roles over the course of any one year.
Rosemarie DeWitt plays the titular “Rachel” and although her dynamic with Hathaway isn’t quite as complicated as the parents (Bill Irwin and Debra Winger), it is important nonetheless. We get to see how two sisters with so much tragic history between them can both be at each other’s throats and in each other’s corners at the same time. As an only child, I can only imagine and try to empathize when it comes to sibling relationships but this one felt as genuine as any I’ve seen on-screen in the last few years at least.
DeWitt must balance being the nervous, anxious and hopeful bride with the element to her character that is both mediator and instigator to Hathaway’s return to the household. She does so beautifully and watching her and the rest of the immediate family cope with Hathaway’s attempt at reconciliation is the driving force that kept me fully engaged in the film as a whole.
Let’s face it, no family is perfect … no life is perfect. It’s in how we cope with life’s difficulties that happiness (whatever that word means) can be derived. “Rachel Getting Married” showcases a family’s struggle to deal with some of the worst case scenarios life on this giant marble can throw at you. Nothing is clear cut in real life, nothing can be solved by a simple pat on the back and long winded apology. I appreciate that the film realizes this and includes not only closure on some issues but a new beginning on others.
Even after all this gushing, I’m only going to give “Rachel Getting Married” a 4 out of 5. The acting and direction deserve another point but the thing that bugged me about the entire affair was the bohemian wedding concept. It was so hokey and un-Connecticut – often disconnecting me with the film. I suppose if I was a bigger hippie, I’d have fallen in love with the idea but I’m not … so I didn’t.
Still, should you be a fan of films about dysfunction families, this is a can’t miss film. Hathaway and DeWitt deliver performances well within awards consideration standards and Demme has yet again crafted a film that will leave an imprint on audiences long after the projector stops.
And if, for some reason, you’re keeping tabs on American Idol contestants, there’s also a cameo by Tamyra Gray and for those Yo MTV Raps! fans, even one by Fab Five Freddy! Anyone else miss when MTV played music? That’s a different tangent altogether.