Dec 14, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

I found this much hyped film quite a disappointment. Some people are saying it's among the best movies of the year. If that is the case, we really have lowered our expectations way too much. It gets brownie points for presenting a very unsympathetic central character, Kym, (a solid performance by Anne Hathaway) and a new American film family that is prescient about the recent relaxation of our racial prejudices. And most of all, for bringing back Debra Winger, who is amazing and looks amazing (no surgery) after all these years. However, its sins are greater than its virtues.
For a much more satisfying dysfunctional family circus you should check out Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale. Much more bite, much more intelligence and much less artificially stacking up the deck. Rachel Getting Married is one of those movies that thinks the audience needs to be hit over the head with a fondue set in order to wring emotion out of us. It's DRAMAH, overwrought and undignified, like Americans like it.
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married and her sister Kym is leaving rehab to attend the three day liberal P.C. orgy that makes one want to decamp to Alaska and start pallin' around with Sarah Palin. I would like to think that this self-satisfied, self-indulgent wedding affair (bridesmaids wearing saris, a folksy wedding band from hell) are screenwriter Jenny Lumet's secret fantasy to tear on the absurdity of weddings and the insufferability of certain enlightened liberals. To Jonathan Demme's credit, the entire wedding megillah is as excrutiating to sit through as the real thing. The bride is one of those people who want to be really special, so she makes sure everything about her wedding is not like any other wedding on Earth. Homey, folksy, new agey, world musicky (stop if you are feeling nauseous). She is marrying a saintly Black musician. While the sisters in the brides' camp bicker and fight and every skeleton comes out of the closet of their white, coddled dysfunctional nest, the only thing missing from the groom's side are halos and angel wings. Not that we want to see The Sharks v. The Jets, but I find such blanket movie stereotypes very disturbing. It would not have killed anyone to add a little bit of complicated humanity or bite to these nice, sweet people. A little bit of slight racial tension. It would have been more true to life.
The writing is extremely heavy handed. It just so happens that Rachel is studying psychology so she can better dissect her sister's problems. There is no need to stack the deck like that, with her actually opening a textbook to harangue her sister. Everyone knows that in every single family everybody else is always a certified closet shrink.
The people in this movie are so self absorbed and unlikeable, particularly the bride, that I really was praying for rain on the wedding day. It doesn't help that the father who spawned these two girls is the soppy and sappy and totally miscast Bill Irwin.
There is a scene about a dishwasher loading contest between the father of the bride and the groom, which is one of the most cringe inducing things I've ever seen. It's hard to decide whether the filmmakers intended this as sarcasm about these insufferably corny liberals, as it's followed by Bill Irwin dissolving into grief at the sight of a melamine plate belonging to his dead son. How did someone as sharp and hot as Debra Winger get married to him? Certainly, the two self-involved girls would have benefited from some tough love. As it is, apparently they've grown up to be high-maintenance selfish brats, (each one in her own way). The rivarly and the strain between the sisters is believable. The toast that Kym gives at the rehearsal dinner is not. Even a fucked up person like that, particularly a sober one, would know when to shut her trap, all the while trying to contain the damage. But the movie is unrestrained in its efforts to make it all as emotionally harrowing as possible and it all ends sounding like a dramatization of a Dr. Phil episode.
I'm starting to realize, too late perhaps, that subtlety has never been a virtue in much demand in American films.
Meanwhile, this movie made me think back of Catherine Deneuve coolly smoking one cigarette after another as she is informed of having a devastating and rare form of cancer. She coolly tells her fucked up son, the great Mathieu Amalric, that she never really loved him and she doesn't now. They exchange pointed postprandial poisons as each one takes a drag of their respective fags. No one raises their voice, yet this scene is so chilling, I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. In contrast, in Rachel Getting Married we get a scene of mother and daughter actually decking each other, screaming and crying and tearing their hair out in a most unseemly way. Instead of working on our hearts, with its cheap psychology of guilt, it works on our last nerve.

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