Friday, February 13, 2009
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George
Director: Jonathan Demme
Runtime: 114 min.
Rating: ***** (Masterpiece)
What I’ll start with is a recommendation. Wait, maybe I’ve already done that when I consider Rachel Getting Married a masterpiece. But then, just in case, and for insurance I say again - you should watch even if you don’t watch movies. For some odd reason I’m not aware of, I feel complete. I don’t know if that is to make sense but I loved Rachel Getting Married way beyond all sense.
Let us do try and make some sense out of what I feel anyway. So, Rachel is getting married. That is the big occasion. A celebration of a lifetime. But then, when are weddings not. I have seldom found myself in weddings, except for my brother’s, and yet I believe a wedding is a more special occasion for a woman than a man. Bear with me before you raise your argumentative spears, for I only speak relatively. It is special for both but more so for the bride. I guess that is one of those notions I carry around within me. And from where I look, there’s not a more eventful place to be in the wedding than to be in Rachel’s camp. That is where the film places us, along with Kym (Ms. Hathaway), in a home teeming with folks from everywhere. Kym arrives from drug rehab, several months into her treatment, and this short visit to her sister’s wedding is a minor homecoming for her. Maybe minor’s not the word, not for Kym at least, and when you do watch the film be considerate enough to supply the right one if you do happen to come across it.
Rachel is doing a degree in psychology. She is marrying the love of her life, Sidney (Mr. Adebimpe) a lover of music, and he hails from Hawaii. Ms. Hathaway has been nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Actress category. That information might lead you to believe the film is about her character, despite the title. At an apparent level that is true. This family – Rachel, Kym, their father Paul (Mr. Irwin) and their step-mother Carol (Ms. Smith) – they all are dealing with their lives. We all are. Most of us have the proverbial elephant in the room staring at us. Even minor ones go a long way in leaving an indelible impression on the collective experience of a family. The problem is here the elephant is larger in size, so large that it isn’t the elephant no more.
A friend of mine whose opinion I often seek and respect much was bothered a bit by the extended detailing of the marriage, which like Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, or Robert Altman’s A Wedding (Mr. Altman is paid tribute in the end credits) is indeed set during the course of a wedding ceremony. Here, the movie almost reinvents the usage of the hand-held first-person camera. It plays out like a cross between a marriage video and, as Mr. Ebert points out so rightly here, an experience at one of those weddings we all have visited at some point in our lives. Not since Janusz Kaminski masterwork in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan have I witnessed a more judicious usage of such visual style, where we do not feel our head spinning but instead feel the rush of life and energy all around us. There’s remarkable application of shallow focus, and rarely have I seen such accomplished direction of our view through means of angles and alternating the focus. We see folks, we meet folks and they feel real. As in, not characters filling up the frame, but one of flesh and blood. We’re in a crowd, you see, and how to make some sense out of it is left to us. The film does it on our behalf, by including us as a member of the bride’s family. It has a big warm heart and that flows through every vein of the film and every choice it makes.
I believe the marriage and the celebrations involved are the film’s great strength. This is a joyous occasion. The most special one. One of those for which a chunk of a lifetime is spent working towards, in quite a number of ways. This is where the humanity of the film comes in, with all its vitality, and for this moment, it reduces the size of the elephant. Because this is Rachel’s day, and only hers. And the family’s. These folks deserved it. Most of us do. That is why I believe this film, at its heart, is all about Rachel.
I’m deeply affected by Rachel. It is the morning of her wedding, and there’s a deeply moving sequence where she bathes a hazmat Kym, and dresses her even before she dresses herself. In its purity and raw power I was reminded of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. I’m also reminded of my brother and a little incident that happened at his wedding. It was big, my brother in another world, I’m one of those who reveres his elder sibling, and I was more eager for him than he was. Our relatives were all there, so many of them. It was the night before the big day, we were sleeping, and the phone rang and one of our older uncles from the maternal front, who had a bad medical past, was having trouble with his health. Everyone was alarmed and we feared the worst. The doctor came, checked him and asked him to rest, and mentioned it to both the father’s it had the potential to be serious, and that a hospital was the place for him. He slept, we all returned to our homes, it was three in the morning, and in a moment that I’ll always regret I cursed him. For turning up and potentially ruining my brother’s wedding. My brother heard, and he took me inside, sat on a bed and spoke to me at length, not mentioning once about how wrong I was, but how generous it was of my uncle to turn up even in this state of health. I’ll always remember it for the rest of my life. That moment when I was selfish because I felt I had the right to be selfish. I believe Rachel, on this day, can afford to be selfish, and reason is her wedding. That she does, and doesn’t, fascinates me no end. She is one of those characters I would love to know, and it is one of the great performances of the year. It is no common feat to use smile to express anguish. And I wouldn’t want to dwell any further and speak of in terms of such techniques, except to say almost every performance is truthful, and anything that comes their way couldn’t have felt more deserving.
Mr. Demme presents this predicament with amazing compassion and understanding. He doesn’t take sides, not even a moment of his film resorts to judging any of the sisters or for that matter any of other the characters, and he gives them a free rein. His people seem to have been etched out of life, and once we get to feel them and observe them, it really doesn’t matter who they are or if we know them at all. That they are there alone is reassuring. There doesn’t seem to be a single false moment in the entire picture, and even the potential ones are handled with a feel of reality. I wondered if the film was autobiographical, and I set out to research a bit. Before that I happened to cross to Mr. Ebert’s review, and there I see his own acknowledgement of that doubt. I well up, I read on, and I learn that the screenwriter Jenny Lumet, who is the daughter of the great Sidney Lumet, does have an elder sister Amy, who is a sound editor. How much of the film is based on Ms. Jenny’s I have no idea, but I choose to believe such truth that drips from every moment, each of which seems to have been felt, cannot be a product of mere writing. Rarely have sibling relationships found such deep reflection at the movies.
With Rachel Getting Married, Mr. Demme finally displays again that immense depth of understanding he has for his characters, which he displayed in his early films. Melvin and Howard does come to mind. He is one of those rare filmmakers whose liberal sense doesn’t feel contrived in any way but an inherent part of him. They feels honest and truthful when he makes them. This might be his greatest work to date, and I say that because the way he chooses to end his film. It is a special sequence, one which I believe the great Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky would have been proud of, one which combines music and visuals to create life and its moments. One which mean nothing except that they exist, and that alone is a cause for celebration. The film is too, and as it end credits passed along, I felt a strange feeling of vacuum, as if a special moment was past us. I cried like a baby, and I was so scared I watched the film again.
What I’ll end with is another note of recommendation. If you have planned one film for this weekend, or for the month, or even as much as the whole year, make it this one. If you intend to watch just one film from 2008 I believe this is it. Yeah, yeah, I know that other elephant in the room. And chances are, you would have watched that flipping truck thing with one freak inside and one freak outside. So let it be cast aside, for this day this hour is all about Rachel Getting Married. It is so good, and here’s where I am out on a limb and beg, that you owe it to yourself to watch this film, because it is so good, because its bond of love is so pure and because you deserve it. In every which way. And some.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 2:49 PM