Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rachel Getting Married

"Just as Long as there's Health"

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to join Robert Altman's "A Wedding," James L. Brooks' "Terms of Endearment," Robert Redford's "Ordinary People," and Otto Preminger's "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" in a Wholly hand-held digitized Indie Matrimony. Do you promise to love and cherish this movie through Sundance and Award-Season, through Oscar Campaigns and Buzz-Kill. Do you promise to watch over the dodgy home-movie-like photography, the world-music wedding sequences, the roller-coaster ride of joyful scene, painful revelation, funny scene, hysterical over-reaction, calming lull, screaming match, cathartic suicide attempt, reconciliation and subtle revelation?

You do? Really? ....(really?!)

Well...uh...then, may I present
"Rachel Getting Married," a fine film with a good pedigree that manages to unfold slowly like an Altman film, but with a definite point to reach, story-wise and some terrific performances by a great ensemble cast. I've seen lots of culture-clash wedding movies before--they're a good source for forced comedy, always a little too forced. But here, from a script by Jenny Lumet (Sidney's kid), the complicated back-story is revealed organically, when the characters are ready to reveal it, with a protracted amount of time thwacking and hacking through the thicket of recrimination and resentment and nobody talking about "it," they're usually raising their voices about what's happening right NOW! There are moments you want to walk out into the lobby discretely to let them work it all out, which happens quite a bit in this movie.

The tough part in this type of thing is for the actors to carry the history without giving too much away and to prolong the interest, and fortunately,
Jonathan Demme has cast a great range of actors, particularly funny-man Bill Irwin, who is a more interior and less volcanic Robin Williams. When Williams has a plot revelation, it's everything to keep it contained in a burst of hyper-volatility, but Irwin (who goofed with Williams in the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" video) is a more suppressed performer, with the discipline of a mime. Revelations have to be pulled out of him (with an invisible rope!).

As his wife (and support system),
Anna Deavere Smith--a great joy in "The West Wing," and was one of the few actors to come out looking good in "The Human Stain." As Irwin's ex-wife, Debra Winger, and anytime Winger's in a movie, it's an event. Here, she's the mom-harpie that she played against in "Terms of Endearment," and where Shirley MacLaine was show-stopping trooper, Winger submerges it, and lets it out in dribs and drabs, which is the perfect strategy. Rosemarie DeWitt plays the eponymous "Rachel" (and why that title is so important becomes clear in the film) in a role that at the dawn of the indie boom would have been played by Annabeth Gish.

But over-shadowing the movie
like a little black cloud is Anne Hathaway as the family member with a three day pass from re-hab, who's working on addictions to well, just about everything...booze, narcotics, tobacco, danger, sex, drama, attention ("Hello, I'm Shiva, the Destroyer," she begins her wedding toast).
There's a semi-running gag of her running into people all-too-familiar with her past (A 7-11 clerk sees her enter and brightens, "Didn't I see you on "Cops?"). Hathaway is a little thunderstorm, chain-smoking, machine-gunning dialogue, hyper-needy, guaranteed to say the inappropriate thing, and every scene she's in you wait for the bomb to go off--she's your worst Liza Minnelli nightmare. And when she reaches a moment of relative tranquility, the film loses some of its charge, even though it's nice to have a little "relative" peace and quiet. Don't count her out of the Oscar race.

"Rachel Getting Married" is a Matinee.

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