Rachel Getting Married (2008)

“I think families are weird and insane…

They are the best source material.”

Jenny Lumet Interview with L.A. Times

I can’t agree with Lumet more… well, maybe not the insane part.  As screenwriter (daughter of director Sydney Lumet), she must have pondered the facts that the family is the first point of social contact a newborn is introduced to, the hotbed of human relationships from jealousy to rivalry, and the school of harsh lessons, learning to love amidst hate, forgive despite hurt.  That is the scenario in her script Rachel Getting Married.

And usually it’s at weddings that the raw emotions are exposed and where conflicting sentiments are so intense that they become unmanageable, hence, the source materials for many of our films…

It was full house again at The Calgary International Film Festival’s screening of Rachel Getting Married. First time screenwriter Jenny Lumet has crafted a realistic family portrait.  Director Jonathan Demme (of The Silence of the Lambs fame) uses roving camera work to effectively capture the naturalistic look, giving me the impression that I’m watching the home-made video of another family.  This film is definitely not for those with weak stomach or who are easily nauseated.

The movie is about Kym (Anne Hathaway) returning home for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding.  Kym has been in rehab for some years, trying to deal with substance abuse.  Coming home is bitter sweet for all. First, Kym’s father has remarried and a wedding means the re-appearance of Kym’s mother (Debra Winger), and the re-opening of old wounds.  Further, the jealousy and sibling rivalries are still intense, albeit hidden within a facade of good will most of the time. As the story unfolds, we see the tragic past of the family, its emotional residue still spilling out to the present.

Shot in a naturalistic style (Robert Altman is acknowledged in the end credits), with a hand-held camera jolting its way through family gatherings, punctuated with non-script-like casual and spontaneous talks, the film makes us feel like we’re secretly prying into another family’s affairs.  But herein lies the merit of such an incisive look.  The truth is, if we get the chance to peep behind the curtains into other people’s homes, we would probably find how similar they are with our own.   We may not have to deal with a substance abuser, or have gone through similar tragedies, but we have to live with the common human emotions of hurt and disappointment, rivalries and anger.  We are encouraged when we see how others find redemption, and from the pit of negativism, rise up and go forward.

Anne Hathaway has shown that she can act outside of the sweet and charming feminine roles as in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Becoming Jane (2007).  Here in Rachel Getting Married, she has effectively delivered an excellent performance as a messed up substance abuser struggling to redeem herself.  The film could well lead her to other more character-driven roles in the future, or maybe even an acting nomination.

As for the film itself, the roving camera work is not for everybody.  With its almost 2 hours running time, seems like it needs a bit more work on editing and pacing to make it more appealing.  Do we need so many musical numbers?  Overlooking the melodramatic parts, the film is still effective in delivering a very human story.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Update December 11:  Anne Hathaway has just been nominated for a Best Actress Award at the 2009 Golden Globes for her role in Rachel Getting Married.



Arti of Ripple Effects is the writer of the above original review, posted on September 30, 2008, here at https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com   ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

If you see this article on some other blogs or websites (as I have) without acknowledgment, citing, or linking back to Ripple Effects, then you know it has been copied without permission from the author.

Appaloosa (2008)

Yes, they’re still making westerns. The plots are still generic. Lawmen upholding the law in a lawless land. So what’s new?

What’s new is the fine tuning of characterization, the focus on internal conflicts and dilemmas, and the more stylistic and agile camera works, the music, and the slower, almost meditative pace of story development. I have in mind Open Range (2003), and the recent 3:10 to Yuma (2007).

… And at the Globe where the movie was screened, among the full house attendance at the Calgary International Film Festival, some enthusiasts even dressed western for the occasion.

Ed Harris has proved that he is versatile as an actor and director (Pollack, 2000), and now as a screenwriter. He is all three in Appaloosa. Based on the book by Robert B. Parker, Appaloosa is a typical western buddy movie.  Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his sidekick Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen, with Harris in A History of Violence, 2005) are two “itinerant lawmen”.  They are hired this time by the town of Appaloosa, as marshal and deputy, to get rid of the lawless rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his gang.  The twists begin to emerge when a young widow shows up in town.  Allie French (Renée Zellweger) is so alone, so vulnerable, that she has her eye on the tough marshal Cole as soon as she enters town.

The buddy duo has some adjustment to make with this sudden appearance of a third party.  With a woman in his life, Cole himself has become vulnerable and is soon confronted with the dilemma: woman or duty.  Well that’s just one of the several twists of the story, a plot that takes its time to unfold.

As much as I like Renée Zellweger, I find her portrayal of Allie French less than satisfactory. There is definitely a miscast here. It takes more than just acting to bring out the sly femme fatale persona… her look and demeanour just do not reflect the menacing shrewdness and seductive lure needed here. It is unfortunate that Zellweger is cast into a role that she simply does not look the part.

But the movie is still enjoyable just the same. It is slick, funny, clever, and entertaining. Overall the acting is superb, but it is Viggo Mortensen who steals the show. As the quiet, and very intelligent sidekick of Virgil Cole, Everett Hitch has been more than supportive of his buddy. He is Cole’s vocabulary teacher, attentive listener and counsellor, and at the end, fulfills what justice and honor require a man to do, something which Cole himself has neglected. Mortensen has delivered a most gratifying performance which I think deserves an Oscar nomination.

At the end, after twists and turns, the hero rides off into the sunset, a typical conclusion. But this time, we are reminded why we come to see a western to begin with.  Such is the kind of movies where honor and nobility of character is expected of the protagonist, and that the good still wins, and justice served.  How satisfying.  Maybe that is why they are still making westerns, knowing there is an insatiable yearning for such ideals which are beyond time and genre.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été, France 2008)

September is International Film Fest month in several Canadian cities.  Kicking off was the prominent TIFF (Toronto, world’s largest FF), now’s the CIFF (Calgary), and later on in the month, the VIFF (Vancouver).  Last year I was able to catch a glimpse from each one of these events.  But this year I’ll just stick with Calgary.

Went to see French director Olivier Assayas’ (Paris, je t’aime, 2006; Clean, 2004)  Summer Hours last night, the only screening in Calgary.  Writing the script himself, Assayas has created a film so realistic that it seems like a docudrama.  The story is about three adult siblings dealing with the estate of their mother (Edith Scob), a treasure house filled with objets d’arts, from furniture to vases, paintings to artist notebooks.  It’s a visual delight for the art lovers in the audience, albeit the camera doesn’t stay long enough for us to savor… I’d love to see more close-up lingering shots of the notebooks.

What’s realistic of course is, while the objects can easily be passed on from one generation to the next, the emotions and sentiments associated with them cannot.  The eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) wishes to leave the house as is so everyone in the family can still stop by and cherish the memories, but his other two siblings think otherwise.  Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) works as a designer in New York and is soon getting married.  Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) works with a sports manufacturing company in China and is settled there with his family.  Though all appreciate the memories of their childhood home in France and the artifacts within, they have their own life to live and family to raise elsewhere.  Their decision of how to deal with their mother’s estate is a practical one, sell it.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is the honorable recipient of these personal treasures.  Actually, Assayas was commissioned by the Museum to create the film in celebration of its 20th anniversary.  Here we see the pathos of turning family heirloom into museum pieces, albeit handled gently and meticulously by the staff.  Herein lies the crux of the film.  Assayas has depicted the human side of objets d’arts that we see in museums, how they could have been everyday household items, a table on which notes have been scribbled and letters written, a vase that has held many cut flowers from the garden.  These have been objects used and enjoyed privately by families, but are now desensitized, hung or displayed in a public arena.  The personal and subjective experiences could never be captured by the public eye.

The last scene is a closure for the pain of letting go.  The teenage grandchildren have one last chance to enjoy the house and its idyllic setting as they hold a large party for their friends.  The young immerse themselves in loud music, dancing, doping, and dipping in the pond, unaware of the passing of one era to the next.  A brief moment of sadness takes hold of the oldest granddaughter, as she savors a lingering memory in the garden.  She is joined by her boyfriend for a brief reminiscence and the next moment, they quickly dash back to the house to rejoin the party.  Assayas has painted the poignant in a most subtle manner.

~ ~ ~ Ripples