From the archives: "A kind of grace"

I haven’t revisited Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married since I first saw it in November of 2008, but I was enough impressed with it to list it as my #3 favorite film of that year, and to single out Bill Irwin’s performance as one of the year’s best.  (Anne Hathaway’s performance, unfortunately, hasn’t stuck with me, though I wrote glowingly about it at the time.)  Having run hot and cold on Demme over the years, it still seems to me one of his stronger efforts.  My original review is excerpted below.

“It's a big, messy, imperfect film structured around a Connecticut wedding, as the family of the bride, Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt), is thrown into disarray upon the arrival of prodigal daughter/sister Kim (Anne Hathaway). Kim is a recovering drug addict, temporarily sprung out of rehab for the special occasion, and she not only wears her dishonor proudly but readily picks fights, taunting her sister and parents with passive-aggressive barbs. […] The sisters vye for attention like teenagers. ‘That's not fair!’ Kym shouts when, in the middle of a heated argument, Rachel makes a tactical move that immediately wins her a shower of affection from their family, who has been watching them warily from the sidelines. ‘Can't I have one day?’, Rachel pleads to their goofy, emotionally fragile father--stunningly played by Bill Irwin--who tries desperately to please everybody and ends up pleasing no one.

“[…] The events of the weekend unfold loosely and organically, with a documentary realism; the characters (and Demme's handheld camera) move freely through the spaces of the film, and the dialogue often has an improvised feel. In a brilliant, silly stroke of genius, the string band hired for the wedding, in constant practice at the edges of the frame, provides nearly all of the music for the film. […] This is where the strength of the film lies: in its looseness, its messiness. As guests at the wedding of strangers, we're thrown headlong into this mass of people--and although the film dramatizes moments of pain and bitterness, it fosters such deep affection for all of its characters that we're left invigorated, uplifted, rather than beaten down. The film's conflicts are resolved delicately, in such a way that very little is actually put to right at the end of the film. Rather, we're given the sense that the characters are able to achieve a kind of grace, if only temporarily.

“[…] No performance of Hathaway’s that I've seen up to this point prepared me for how impressive she is here. At first I was tempted to blame Hathaway for how much I disliked Kym in the early scenes of the film; Kym comes off as too affected, a series of postures. She reminded me of a grown-up, deeply wounded Juno, rattling off quips that only she seems to find clever or amusing. This is exactly the way to play Kym, though, and it's to Hathaway's credit that for most of the film I completely forgot that she was playing the role. She's unrecognizable here, having totally immersed herself in playing someone who frustrates and annoys us, but whom we ultimately come to care about. When she drives off at the end of the film, having tentatively reconciled with the newly wed Rachel, we're not sure what will happen to her, but we hope she'll be okay.”

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