Jan 24, 2009

Rachel Getting Married [15]

Dir: Jonathan Demme
I’m so torn on this film, there’s a lot that I respect about it. The acting, Jenny Lumet’s amazing screenplay, the music… and then there’s a huge problem right at the centre of the film. I have previously mentioned my antipathy for the current ‘shaky-cam’ fad, a device that filmmakers seem to feel lends immediacy and intimacy, but which I feel makes their work look like a 12 year old with ADD shot it. There is absolutely no need for Rachel Getting Married to be shot this way, and the fact that it is often makes the film, despite its undoubted quality, a real trial to watch. More than once, in scenes where there is just a single character on screen speaking or on one occasion singing, I had to restrain myself from standing up and yelling “Keep the fucking camera still”.

This is a particular irritant because everything else about Rachel Getting Married is absolutely top notch. The cast is composed mainly of little known actors (and some non-actors) all of whom acquit themselves beautifully, but it’s the known quantity, Anne Hathaway, who has been attracting most of the awards attention. It’s not unwarranted attention either, Hathaway is completely transformed, and utterly mesmerising as Kym. The role is deeply unsympathetic and though Kym constantly asks for sympathy, and craves attention, Hathaway never tries to manipulate the audience into caring for her. Nor do Hathaway or Jenny Lumet give Kym a sudden character shift over the weekend over which the film takes place. She arrives a screwed up young woman straight out of rehab, and that’s how she leaves too. People are complex, they don’t change overnight and both Lumet’s script and Hathaway’s finely wrought and extremely moving performance recognise that.

Like most of the performers Hathaway manages to make what must have been scripted dialogue sound like it’s coming straight from her. Not a line, not an inflection feels rehearsed, particularly in her show stopping speech at the wedding rehearsal dinner. The supporting cast are destined to be overlooked in the rush to praise Hathaway, but if anything Rosemarie DeWitt is even better as Rachel. She’s got the tougher job, there are no real extremes to Rachel (while Kym is all extremes) but DeWitt hits every emotional beat with absolute truth and conviction. She’s got several great scenes with Hathaway, in which she’s extraordinary, but DeWitt’s best work is opposite Tunde Adebimpe, who plays her new husband. The chemistry between the two of them is electric and unforced, and the way she listens as he sings to her at their wedding is one of the most beautiful moments I’ve seen in a cinema for some time.

It would be easy to write reams on the brilliance of all the film’s performances, but a couple more do need to be singled out. Stage actor Bill Irwin is new to me, but he makes what could have been an annoyingly weak character deeply touching, with a riveting performance as the permanently flustered father juggling one daughter’s wedding, the other’s return from rehab and the constant worry that goes with both. Then, of course, there’s Debra Winger, returning to the screen the best part of 15 years since her last major role. She’s well cast as Hathaway and DeWitt’s mother, and gives a nicely low-key performance, never demanding the limelight, but softly threatening to steal a few scenes.

As much as I love most of Rachel Getting Married it does make a few missteps, there are a couple of moments that, in a film this realistic, feel a bit overly contrived, a slightly stock involvement between Hathaway and the best man, and a melodramatic moment that we just don’t need. Despite the fact that his stylistic choices annoyed me, you have to hand it to Jonathan Demme; he draws a large and often inexperienced cast together into a completely believable group of family and friends, while getting individually excellent performances from every one of them. I’d love to recommend Rachel Getting Married unreservedly, but the distracting camerawork does jolt you out of the film so frequently that it undermines what is otherwise a brilliant piece of work all round.

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