Rachel Getting Married all in the (new-age) family
The rules say that critics dont discuss movies after screenings. After I saw Jonathan Demmes Rachel Getting Married for the second time, however, a friend asked: Wouldnt you love to attend a wedding like that? In a way, I felt I had. Yes, I began to feel absorbed in the experience. A few movies can do that, can slip you out of your mind and into theirs.Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) does indeed get married. There is an engrossing plot involving her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway). But I believe the films deep subject is the wedding itself: how it unfolds, who attends, the nature of the ceremony, and what it has to observe about how the concept of family embraces others, and how our multicultural society is growing comfortable with itself.The story centers on Kym (Hathaway), a recovering drug addict, who after being in and out of rehab for 10 years is now several months into a treatment that seems to be working. Shes given a day pass to attend her sisters wedding. Her family lives in a big old country house in Connecticut, filled with memories, family, future in-laws and the friends of bride and groom. Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), Rachels intended, is a classical musician, and all kinds of music fill a film that has no formal score. The wedding party is what we call diverse. Im not going to identify characters by race because such a census would offend the whole spirit of the film. These characters love one another, and thats it.Notice the visual strategy of Demme and his cinematographer, Declan Quinn. Some shots are dealt with in a traditional way (establishing, close-ups, etc). More shots plunge right into the middle of the characters; some may be hand-held, or maybe not, but for me they reproduced an experience weve all had. Thats when we wander through a party looking first here and then there, noticing who is where and why, connecting threads, savoring. Sometimes we walk outside and look through doorways and windows. This visual approach is how they populate the film with a large number of characters, establish them, familiarize us, and dont pause for redundant identifications. We dont meet everyone at a wedding, but we observe everyone.Consider in this context the former and present wives of the father, Paul (Bill Irwin). His first wife, Abby (Debra Winger), is the mother of Kym, Rachel and a younger brother who drowned. She is of intense importance to Kym. Their private conversation is filmed in a traditional, powerful way, underlining dialogue and emotion. Then consider Pauls second wife, Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). She has limited dialogue and no big dramatic scenes. But without being obvious about it, Demme and Quinn make her very present. As we wander through the house and sit through the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and the party, we are always aware of her.This is exactly right, and observant of the way a loved and comfortable second wife functions at an event where the brides parents have higher billing. She knows everyone, watches everything, is pleased or concerned, stands quietly behind her husband, loves his daughters, smoothes the waves. To give her a foreground role would have been a mistake. But you will not forget her.One of the reasons Smith works so well, as an unobtrusive soothing element, is typecasting. She looks like she would be the kind of person she plays. Whether she really is or not, I wouldnt know. But thats not the point of typecasting. Why have I given so much attention to a relatively minor character? Because she represents the films approach to all the characters. When Robert Altman is thanked in the end credits, I imagine it is not only because he was Demmes friend, but because his instinct for ensemble stories was an example. Demme owes much to his editor, Tim Squyres, who also edited Altmans Gosford Park, another film that kept track of everyone at a big house party. That might have been the very reason he was hired.Demmes achievement is shared with the original screenplay by Sidney Lumets daughter, Jenny Lumet. This is her first writing credit, but the story might have felt like second nature to her. She is descended from artists; her grandparents on her mothers side were the singer Lena Horne and the jazz legend Louis Jordan Jones; her grandparents on her fathers side were Baruch and Eugenia Lumet, an actress and an actor-director. Her father is the director Sidney Lumet, and her mother the writer Gail Lumet Buckley. The apple did not fall far from those trees. I dont have to be told that her life has included countless gatherings of the nature of Rachels wedding. And although I do not know Sidney Lumet well, I know enough to say he is kind and warm; I suspect he was an inspiration for the character Paul, who can hear Carol even when she isnt talking.Jenny Lumet has a sister, the sound editor Amy Lumet. Thats interesting. Is the film autobiographical? I have no way of knowing. Demme demonstrates something he shares with Altman: He likes to be surrounded by his own extended family. The gray-bearded man who performs the ceremony is his cousin, Rev. Robert Castle, subject of Demmes doc Cousin Bobby (1992). His daughter Josephine is in the film. And so on. Apart from the story, which is interesting enough, Rachel Getting Married is like theme music for an evolving new age.
Rachel Getting Married Sony Classics presents a film directed by Jonathan Demme. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian and Marc Platt. Written by Jenny Lumet. Running time: 111 minutes. Classified: R (for language and brief sexuality). Rated: Four stars out of four.
Michael OSullivanThe Washington PostMy handwritten notes from Rachel Getting Married end with a single word: Altmanesque.The bravura way director Jonathan Demme juggles the hurly-burly of an upscale wedding made hurlier and burlier by the arrival, straight from rehab, of the title characters (Rosemarie DeWitt) high-maintenance sister Kym (Anne Hathaway, like youve never seen her) evokes the work of the late, great filmmaker. The sprawling cast, the naturalistic, overlapping dialogue (here by screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney) and the swirling action: it seemed pure Robert Altman.But you know what? That knee-jerk description was wrong.If anything, the film is Demme-esque, harking back to the darkness and emotional complexity of The Silence of the Lambs and the madcap energy of Something Wild. The organic way the story incorporates music is pure Demme, too. The groom (Tunde Adebimpe) is some music-biz hotshot, and the various bands that are seen practicing and performing throughout the swirling wedding preparations and ceremony include Robyn Hitchcock and other real musicians.Theres a dark secret, too, but its lurking presence never feels cheap or forced. Theres something very recognizable, very true about the way it has percolated up through the psyches of Rachel, a psychologist; her ringmaster father (former clown Bill Irwin); and her emotionally remote mother (Debra Winger), manifesting itself in personalities that feel fully fleshed, if damaged in different ways.Or, in the case of Kym, the way it explodes with the force of a still-active volcano. Thats natural also, and all too human.
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