Everything I’ve done in my life since college has been completely accidental. All I wanted to do, pretty much from the first time I could get into R-rated movies, was be a film critic. (It’s the main reason I went to the University of Illinois: Roger Ebert went there.) Because the movie criticism career never quite got on track, I’ve decided to write about movies here. Feel free to skip; I’m only being self-indulgent. These will take the format of my Wrestler piece for NY mag: Five things you need to know.
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
1. Movies never really get weddings right. Everything is either too important, or not important enough. They are destinations, rather than journeys of themselves. One of the best things about Rachel Getting Married is that this feels like a real wedding. Mind you, it’s the most fun wedding you’ve ever been to — I supposed it helps when the groom is the lead singer of TV On The Radio and all the guests play a different instrument — but you feel like an actual guest, rather than someone stuck watching the videos of someone you don’t know. The movie’s best scene is simple: Guests giving toasts. I felt like I knew the couple, and I knew the toasters, and I had no idea what they were going to say next. Because this is a movie, they are more charming than normal wedding guests, which, again, is why it feels like the most fun wedding you’ve ever been to.
2. Anne Hathaway doesn’t know how to hold a cigarette, but that’s the one inauthentic aspect of her performance. She’s a total train wreck, knows it, knows why and still can’t get out of her own way. There’s something haunted and modern about her, like an old silent movie star raised in present-day Connecticut. She’s been a disaster to her family for so long that she wouldn’t know how else to act if she tried, which she doesn’t. Watch, in particular, her scenes with the Best Man at the wedding, a fellow recovering abuser (who happens to look and act almost exactly like Alex Balk, I might add). She knows he’s on to her bullshit, but the weird thing is that she’s not sure what exactly that bullshit is anymore, or what there’s left for him to even be onto. This is an incredibly difficult thing to convey, and she does it without missing a beat.
3. Why is the movie so populated with atmosphere? I think it’s because the story itself is, while moving, somewhat thin. Jenny Lumet’s screenplay is much better in the small details than the big picture. The relationship between Kym and Rachel is dead-on; anyone who has a sibling who requires more energy from the rest of the family than another will understand what they’re both going through. (Rachel’s adminition that her father can only be stirred from his stupor when he has to fix something involving Kym is particularly cutting.) But the structure is clumsy. One of the movie’s big scenes is set up while the sisters are getting their hair and nails done, and a man who used to be in rehab with Kym shows up at the Exact Wrong Time and says the Exact Wrong Thing, simply because the plot requires him too. (And what’s Rachel so upset about anyway? Surely making up stories in rehab is far from the worst thing Kym has done.) There are lines in this movie that absolute nail how bewildering, angry and gorgeous families are, and can be. Lumet just has a hard time getting to them.
4. I’d forgotten about Debra Winger, and why wouldn’t I? She’s been in two movies in eight years, and one of them was freaking Radio. But goddamn she’s good. She plays the girls’ mother, who divorced their dad after a family tragedy and quietly decided to sort of check out of life all together. She’s still putting up appearances and pretending, but she’s a spectral presence, sort of floating around, the ghost of a life long since over. She’s chilly and removed out of necessity; most of her is just gone. Her final scene in this movie made me want to hug everyone I know who stuck around through something awful and continued to engage the world. Because not everybody does.
5. Why is everybody sleeping on this movie? It seems like an amalgam of all of Jonathan Demme’s movies as played by a huge band that’s just riffing from one instant to another. The plot in this movie is simultaneously central and peripheral; he’s found a way to make everyone feel real without cheating, like we’re popping in on private moments that we were strangely invited to. It’s joyous and sad. It’s alive and dying. It’s a common tale told like we’ve never heard it before. It’s the melodrama Robert Altman never got to make. It’s wonderful.
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