17 November 2008
Last week I saw Rachel Getting Married, (more interestingly subtitled Dancing With Shiva) what might be my favorite movie of this year so far (well, besides Wall-E), and it's taken me that long to think of a way to express my excitement for it. I still don't think I have enough to say, but wanted to say it in case it encouraged anyone else to see it or before I end up not saying anything at all, which is what usually happens.
The first thing you notice is the camera. It frames Kym and her rehab-mates in a tight close-up, unable to stay still in home video hand-held fashion, conveying how off-kilter and out of balance Kym feels at this point in the film. The disorder continues as Kym meets her father and step-mother who pick her up all smiles. The proceeding car ride establishes a mood that Demme manages to sustain and work wonders with through the entirety of the film. Using naturalistic, spare dialogue expected between people family (and step-family) Kym asks her father about her mother, which returns a half-nervous response from her father (played wonderfully by Bill Irwin) and establishes a slight tension. The entire reveals a lot information in just rearview mirror glances, shifts in the seat, and a necessity for Kym to drink Pepsi from a fountain instead of her step-mother's bottled Coke. The mood that becomes established is a mix of understanding and uneasiness, anchored by a secret we don't know yet that slowly comes to the surface through the course of the film.
As the setting is a house being prepared for a big wedding, there are lots of people everywhere. We are as overwhelmed as Kym to find all these people we (including Kym) don't know sitting around, playing instruments, and talking as the camera follows her from room to room. The camera is still a little shaky but starts to calm down and have some more conventional shots - reactions shots, pans, etc - and the camera continues to be a silent narrator/invisible character throughout the film, guiding us along. Included in this crowd of people (whom we come to know bit by bit, especially through a dinner scene) are musicians who supply the diagetic music of the film that otherwise has no real soundtrack. This environment creates a wonderful sense of place, which feels alive and breathing, making use of ordinary sounds such as background chatter and glasses being set down that are constantly in the background. At times I am reminded of Robert Altman and Nashville and Gosford Park in the way he allows several things to happen at once - people talking at the same time, people walking in and out of rooms constantly - to establish a environment and realism.
Kym is played by Anne Hathaway with too much mascara and brittle hair, constantly putting a cigarette in her mouth which marks how much she doesn't fit into the fresh-air-clean-home environment of her own family's home. Later it becomes the catalyst for a fantastically revealing scene between Kym and her mother (played by Debra Winger). The performances throughout are fantastic, betraying insecurities, past hurt, and love equally conveyed by looks and poses as well as shouting. Kym's face upon facing her sister after her accident by itself says more than any line of dialogue could. The interactions feel authentic and convincingly explore the WASPy, upper-middle class family and their dysfunction without irony, detachment, or criticism. No character in Kym's family is completely empathetic, but the complication of their emotions come to express our own complicated feelings towards them. We want to forgive Kym, but it is hard; we want Rachel to be happy, but we also want her to shutup. It is a delicate balance that avoids cliche and is invested into earnestly by Demme and his crew. Every time we want to condemn them we are reminded of how human they are and how much they hurt.
Rachel Getting Married was a wholly satisfying experience for me and I hope to see it again sooner than later. Among the superheroes and overblown projects released this year I am glad to be reminded that there are still intelligent filmmakers out there in a year that has otherwise left me feeling a little disappointed.