Saturday, November 29, 2008
Rachel Getting Married ***1/2
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt
Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Anissa George
Anna Deavere Smith, Debra Winger
Who would've guessed that Jonathan Demme's best film in almost twenty years would have him turn into a wedding planner?
After a decade that has had him directing documentaries and pointless remakes, he's back in form with an Altmanesque tale of a family coming together for a wedding.
Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a former model who's been in and out of rehab for ten years; she takes leave for a weekend to go to her family's house in Connecticut where her sister Rachel (DeWitt) will be getting married.
There we meet her dad Paul (Irwin), her estranged mother Abby (Winger), Paul's new wife Carol (Deavere Smith), Rachel's fiancé Sidney (Adebimpe), best man Kieran (Zickel), Rachel's best friend Emma (George) and all the sorts of people, with varying descriptions brought together by the event.
Before the weekend is over there will be fights and reconciliations, dark family secrets will come to the surface, news will have them outbursting with happiness, faces will get slapped, music will be played (if there was ever an informal musical film this one's it) and eventually the guests will leave having done exactly what they came to do.
From its opening shot the film establishes the fact that it will be everything except what you thought it would be. The plot is the kind made to make us think that it will be a quirky indie film about dysfunctionality and hippie people, but Demme aptly turns it into a quasidocumentary about love and all the shapes it can take.
Working with a beautiful screenplay by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney and granddaughter of the legendary Lena Horne) you often wonder how much came from the words and how much from Demme's mise-en-scene which comes alive in a way very few films ever do.
Big part of it is owed of course to cinematographer Declan Quinn whose handheld camera approach might've been off putting if it wasn't so damn engaging.
The camera peeks into rooms to see who's there, moves around the house following the characters and eventually it's home video feel might make us wonder who is it exactly representing?
Is it our guide? Is it perhaps Kym's aid in trying to take everything in or is it perhaps some sort of scrapbook with the intention of capturing both the good and the ugly from the wedding?
Whatever it turns out to be for each audience member the truth is that Quinn's work is so fantastic that it makes us thrive on a sort of inviting voyeurism.
The ensemble is tremendously natural, so much in fact to the point where we feel as if the movie was constructed from outtakes.
Hathaway is a revelation, Demme makes the most out of her established likeability and turns her Kym into something we think we like, only to pull the rug from under our feet and making us battle between us "loving to hate" or "hating to love" her.
Hathaway, like everyone else in this film, grabs onto something other films exploit shamelessly, in her case drug addiction and extracts the cliché out of it.
Kym is holding on to a source of pain you can't even imagine, but the actress never martyrizes her character. Hathaway is especially moving when the camera catches her going to some faraway place. Her need to fit in is obvious in her line readings, but watching her just listening to other characters or smoking a cigarette make her turn into someone real.
Her chemistry with the extraordinary DeWitt gives the movie its soul. DeWitt's Rachel who often tries to act like the grownup is in a limbo between going to the childlike joy her wedding brings to her or remaining a steady rock for her whole family to lean on.
When you watch her try to conatin herself from accusing her sister of something DeWitt shines with a rare kind of beauty.
If they give the film a lively spirit, the magnificent Bill Irwin gives it its heart, his Paul is the kind of ever loving father that cries because he can't contain his happiness from having his family with him. Irwin's nuances should've felt like a parody at times, but he's the kind of movie character you wish you knew in real life.
Winger, who is in far too little scenes, makes her Abby someone strangely appealing. You want to know more about her, why did she divorce Paul, why did she become so distant from her daughters, she's a fascinating force of nature that proves to us that love for a mother might be the only kind that is undying.
The rest of the ensemble from Adebimpe's adorable Sidney, to George's neurotic Emma and Zickel's unbelievably sexy Kieran make for one hell of a welcoming party.
"Rachel Getting Married" feels like a family relationship. Its cast and crew become vital parts of a vibrant organism. It goes up and down with its characters, fills them with unmeasurable joy only to replace it seconds later with anger and deceit.
It's like the kind of wedding where you wake up the day after with bruises and a hangover, but will never regret having attended.