Sunday, August 02, 2009

“I am Shiva the Destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening.”

For the Shawshank review, I mentioned that I don’t normally go for Oscar-bait dramas. After reading that, a friend insisted that I sit down at watch 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, because it is chock full of DRAMA. It also has Anne Hathaway in it, who is an actress that I rather like (and not just because she’s gorgeous).

So a young woman who’s in drug rehab comes home to her dad’s house in Connecticut to take part in her sister’s wedding. DRAMA ensues for the next 113 minutes. That’s pretty much the basic plot. Take a wedding, and a recovering junkie and watch the sparks fly as you realize just how dysfunctional their family is.

Kym: Anne Hathaway is just about the cutest recovering addict I’ve seen on screen. As a character, she’s probably the most interesting out of the bunch, and its interesting watching the movie pull back the layers on her until you realize what went so very wrong in her past that made her the defensive, snarky wet blanket that she is during the wedding preparations. It’s a credit to Hathaway’s acting chops that she’s able to do all of that and making her neither a complete bitch or a total mary sue. Instead, she’s a somewhat likable flawed character who still has a long way to go as far as getting back on her feet.

Rachel: Rosemarie DeWitt is the titular Rachel who is getting married. Seeing as we the audience started the film attached to Kym, Rachel is in the unenviable position of competing with the audience’s sympathy when the two start cat fighting. Sure, she’s not a recovering addict with a guilt complex, and yes, the wedding is all about her and all, but damn does she get all passive-aggressive bitchy about things at times. Its hard to like her sometimes, especially since she feeds the DRAMA fire just as much as Kym does.

Paul: Rachel & Kym’s dad. He comes across as a rather likable guy who’s very protective of his troubled daughter, but he’s also got some stuff bubbling under the surface that is only peeked at a handful of times. He’s one of the funnier characters, being a “goofy dad” character, but he’s got a sadness to him that makes him likable and sympathetic. What the hell, he’s this film’s badass because he’s got the unenviable task of keeping this wedding on track despite the DRAMA.

Sidney: Rachel’s groom. He’s apparently a musician of some kind and comes across as a nice enough guy, but since this is a wedding movie, he’s an inconsequential figure because he doesn’t have any DRAMA to speak off.

Kieran: One of Sidney’s friends from Hawaii in town for the wedding. He’s also a recovering addict and bonds with Kym (nudge nudge, wink wink) before the festivities since he knows how tough rehab can be. After that initial bonding (hur hur) between the two, he kind of gets sidelined for the duration of the movie.

The director, Jonathan Demme, uses a documentary style of camera work, going for the shakiness of a handheld camera following the characters around. I’m not a big fan of obvious camera shake throughout a movie, but I can acknowledge the story conceit of it. HOWEVER, the movie itself shatters that conceit by placing the camera in various positions where it would be either ridiculous or impossible for an actual cameraman to be. Example A: at one point early on, Kym is walking into an upstairs room alone. The lighting is dim and dramatic, and the camera follows her in its normal handheld way. The only problem is that the camera is being carried along at ground level looking up at her. On the one hand, it’s a pretty good atmospheric shot, but on the other, why would a guy at a wedding party be doing that sort of thing when the normal impulse would be to carry the camera at normal height. Example B: Kym drives a car off the road (at slow speed) and into some foliage. The camera starts off in the passenger side as she hits (nothing wrong with that) but then immediately after the airbag goes off, the camera cuts to a front view of the car as the headlights are turned off. Yes its dramatic, but the conceit is that there is a cameraman following her at all times. How could he have gotten out of the car that quickly to get a shot of the lights turning off that quickly without magical powers? Moreover, how could he be that much of an asshole to run out of the car for a dramatic shot without checking on the driver’s safety in the first place? Moreover, wouldn’t the camera guy be injured or perhaps thrown through the windshield himself at the impact? Its that kind of documentary-style,-but-not-really thing that bugged the hell out of me during the movie. Shooting it as a documentary (like Spinal Tap) would be one thing, but doing all those kinds of normal filmmaking techniques makes me ask why they didn’t just use a steadi cam and be done with it instead of interrupting the willful suspension of disbelief?

The script by Jenny Lumet is largely pretty good for the DRAMA it contains. Characters have unique voices and the dialog sounds like real and plausible things that characters would. However, the pacing of the whole thing is all over the place. A lot of scenes just drag on forever and ever, outliving their purpose. The Wedding Rehearsal Dinner scene, where a couple important character have length speeches, then Kym gives a bizarre, awkward speech that is full of character building, and then the scene continues onward with characters that are tangentially relevant to the plot giving not short speeches and I’m sitting there thinking, why? The scene has already taken care of the plot points. If I wanted to subject myself to the often long boring stretches between interesting stuff, I’d look to real life.

And speaking of odd things, the whole wedding atmosphere of the movie is really weird. Who has their rehearsal dinner two nights before the actual wedding? Why in God’s name are all of the musical performers moved into the house for the weekend like a band of gypsies? Are there no hotels in Connecticut? And what’s with the theme of the wedding? There’s one guy that looks like a Hare Krishna, two of the musicians look (and play) like High School battle of the bands contestants that got eliminated early on, the rest of the musicians wandering the grounds look (and play) like a band of wandering minstrels (they had at least one lute). I wanted to shout huzzah at them every time I spotted one. I realize they may do things differently in rich, white, liberal Connecticut, but it would’ve been great if one of Sidney’s family members (Sidney’s black, by the way) commenting on just how weird the white folks were. (I mean, Connecticut isn’t exactly known for its racial diversity).
Minstrels, battle of the bands kids, various other weird musicians littering the yard like performers on the streets of Quebec City outside the Chateau Frontenac (an unexpected analogy, I admit, but one that I can use from experience). Despite the obviously eclectic nature of that, the only really memorable elements were the appropriately moody strings, which often jumped to frenetic.

This film ultimately left me with a great big “meh.” Anne Hathaway’s performance (and a few side characters) carried the film for me. The often sluggish pacing, borderline pretentious camera choices, and the sometimes forcefully applied “This is a DRAMA, so have some MORE DRAMA!” scenes didn’t appeal to me. Its not a bad film by any means, but there’s a hollowness to it that I can’t place my finger on. I realize that this is probably a case of “your mileage may vary” but as it stands, I’m not going to truly recommend this film (aside from Hathaway’s performance).

No comments: