Welcome to my film critic's blog! A lifetime of loving movies has enabled me to do this. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Movie A Week: 'Rachel Getting Married' (2008)

Here's another for the 'A Movie A Week' record.

Rachel Getting Married: In a year of so many great films, this is definitely one of the underappreciated ones. And it has been overlooked for several reasons that range from unconventional camerawork to a narrative that enjoys meandering in every possible direction while telling its tale. Rachel Getting Married is about a young woman, Kym (Anne Hathaway), who has been in and out of rehab for the past 10 years and she has now returned home for the weekend for her sister's wedding. But that premise doesn't really tell you anything at all about what makes this movie tick.

   This film may seem to be about Kym (Hathaway was nominated for an Oscar for her performance after all) but it is really about her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding and how it affects all the people involved. The film is an ensemble piece that uses Kym's addiction to showcase how events can colour perceptions and how dysfunctional families struggle with making things work. The film is written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet, who brilliantly sketches all the characters without needing to spell out histories, emotions or motivations. Kym has to confront many of her issues and finds that to do that the rest of the family may have to as well. That includes her divorcee mother (Debra Winger), her father (Bill Irwin), her stepmother (Anna Deavere Smith) and the brother-in-law to-be, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). 

   The character of Sidney has a musical background, which allows an eclectic mix of characters and musical styles to populate the screen and it all intermingles in the melting pot of cultures that is Rachel's wedding. I don't know where director Jonathan Demme ('The Silence of the Lambs', 'Philadelphia') has been for all these years but this is a wonderful return to form for him. The visual strategy is interesting to say the least - cinematographer Declan Quinn shoots it like a home movie of a wedding, the hand-held camera walking in and out of scenes as randomly as you please. The best part is that the style works wonderfully well for the story that is being told.

   The only problem I had with the film is that it was written and shot so that it purposely slows down at unexpected points and spends an inordinate amount of time on scenes that perhaps add very little to the larger narrative. But I also recognise that Demme was going for Altmanesque feel where the trite scenes might actually pose some messages beyond the obvious. And it's a clever contradiction to use because you never know what is fitting together and feels so much more like you are not watching a film at all. Hathaway is off the charts amazing in this film and the Academy Award nomination was well deserved. DeWitt is equally good and she provides the rope for Hathaway to stretch herself. Winger has a smaller role but still manages to hold her own in one particularly powerful scene. And while moving around so many characters, the story does manage to cover many aspects of dealing with addiction and how it can affect everyone around you. 

   This is definitely one of those keep-an-open-mind type of movies because you need to embrace how different it is from any form of conventional storytelling for you to be able to enjoy it. At times it may feel like a raw wound or a reckless home video but it will also show real people muddling through some destructive situations the best way they know how. Weird, strangely cathartic and empathetic at the same - definitely one for the DVD collection!