Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

#38: Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)

In my entire list, this may be the one title of which I am least confident, simply because it's the most recent. It's filmed self-consciously much like a documentary, heavy on the handheld camera and the strange jerks and sweeps of a restless pan-and-zoom—although the framing is often deliberate and surprising and perfect. It also has the feel of an Altman picture, with characters and overlapping dialogue cascading and swirling in and out of a lurching procession of scenes, until sometimes it seems the only way to cope is simply to give in to the sensory overload and let the threads pull you as they will.

Rachel Getting Married goes directly to the source of most modern dysfunctional family movies, 1980's Ordinary People, and liberally borrows basic elements: the upper-middle-class family, the Cold Mother (here done to a tee by Debra Winger), the death of a child/sibling in the past, and the general ineptitude of all in communicating openly with one another. Anne Hathaway's performance, which is functionally the center and point of the picture, occasionally feels studied but is indeed impressive. For the most part she simply disappears into the cringe-inducing Kym, the troubled self-centered sister who seems bent on spending her life in a revolving door between drugs, jail, and rehab. It's probably a little overwritten, but I think overall it's one of the most believable renditions of 12-step experience I've seen yet.

But what I like best is how for once all these travails of the long-suffering family of privilege are counterbalanced with a genuine sense of the lovingness that can be part of dysfunctional families too. In fact, some of the scenes at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself are simply transcendent—beautiful, soaring moments that remind us how such people remain so deeply connected in the first place: they love one another. There's a moment at the wedding when groom Tunde Adebimpe faces his bride Rosemarie DeWitt at the altar and gets off a breathtakingly poised serenade to her of Neil Young's "Unknown Legend." I've seen it criticized as "too much," so caveats. Maybe that makes me a rank sentimentalist after all (something I can live with), but to me it's the heart of the whole thing, and the reason I come back to it.

I couldn't find any clips on YouTube of the rehearsal dinner or wedding—maybe because Rachel Getting Married is still so recent? So the link is just to the trailer.


Phil #38: Casualties of War (Brian De Palma, 1989) (scroll down)
Steven #38: In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

This put us at about the one-quarter point, with 26% of our picks in. I'd used half of mine as a kind of wide-ranging intuitive introductory exercise, based on past obsessions, and the other half flailing around for something like relevance in the past 20 years, plus Cabaret, which probably should have been higher. At one point, my first quarter had a definite tilt toward science fiction (Close Encounters, Videodrome, Liquid Sky, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Run Lola Run, and maybe King Kong), which was interesting. But that changed. After this, in my list-making, I began to shift more and more, somewhat self-consciously, to the canonical—not entirely, but decidedly more so. There are a lot of ways to slice and dice these things, by halves, thirds, quarters, and of course by tens. But I'm not sure I could articulate yet what the difference is between a movie I listed in the 40s and one I listed in the 30s, except that's where they were when I finally got tired of the fiddling and/or when the time to finalize was upon me. I'm pretty sure that Rachel Getting Married, now a sentimental choice because it was instrumental in reintroducing me to the pleasure of going out to the movies again, would likely never again rank so high in a list of mine. (Plus I had written about it here.) But what the hell, the ringers are half the fun in these exercises. And, honestly, it does still look good every time I look again. But 2008—well, the night is young, isn't it?

I caught up with In the Mood for Love (and a couple of other Wong Kar-wai's) just in the past year—very nice stuff, and dense enough that I'm still sorting them out, and looking forward to seeing again. Casualties of War happens to be coming in a week or two for my first look. Weird that I haven't seen it because I have seen a fair amount of De Palma. I'm afraid I have to chalk the foot-dragging on this one up to the Michael J. Fox effect.

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