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Rachel Getting Married

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Is Jonathan Demme about to make me a fan of Anne Hathaway?

And I swore it couldn't be done.

Here's the trailer.

Wait, hold on... the Debra Winger?

Edited by Overstreet

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Seeing it tonight, if all goes well at the film festival. In the meantime, Jeffrey Wells quibbles with the fact (as he sees it) that no one in the movie, and virtually no one among the critics who have reviewed it so far, have acknowledged the movie's racial elements:

But a friend has observed that the way Demme portrays the African-American and Jamaican characters --- Sidney, his Army-serving younger brother, his parents and the various musicians and guests who float in and out -- is a form of benevolent reverse racism. He does this, my friend argued, by making certain that only the white characters -- Rachel and Kym and their parents, played by Debra Winger and Bill Irwin -- are the screwed-up ones. Antsy, haunted, angry, nervous, gloomy. But the darker-skinned characters are all cool, kindly, radiant, gentle, serene.

I was a little suprised when I first heard this view, but I'm starting to think she may have a point. It does seem a little phony. I would have invested myself a little bit more in Rachel Getting Married if, say, Sidney has been a wee bit obnoxious or an obsessive-compulsive or a relentless pot smoker -- anything but the dull block of wood that Demme, Lumet and Adebimpe have created. Everyone everywhere has conflicts, problems, insecurities, regrets. Except in films like this one.

All to say that I never really believed Rachel Getting Married. I enjoyed the craft and random energy of it, but I never believed that I watching real-life people. Every step of the way I felt Exiled in Demmeville.

For whatever that's worth.

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I saw the film last night, and I take Wells's point -- among other things, once again in a Hollywood movie, the black people have religion and the white people don't (except, maybe, for Anne Hathaway's statement at a 12-step meeting that she doesn't want to believe in a God who could forgive her, so make what you will of that) -- but the film goes way beyond a simple fusion of black and white. There are other races and cultures represented at the wedding, too, and the wedding itself is the sort of multicultural pastiche where everyone says "Lochaim!" when giving a toast, and the bridesmaids wear saris and a musician plays the sitar and the wedding cake is shaped like an Indian elephant, and the bride's family has Coptic Orthodox icons lining the dining-room wall for no apparent reason, and so on. (Brett McCracken discusses this in the context of "hipster" culture.)

This is another one of those films where I wonder if I would have watched it differently, or had less of an emotional reaction to it, if I had seen it before having three kids of my own. There is Kim (the Anne Hathaway character), there is Rachel, and then there is ... someone we never see, except in photos. I hope to dear God my family never has to deal with what these people deal with. It took me a while to "get into" the film, but by the end, there was some pretty potent stuff, all the more so because there are no flashbacks or anything, just people living with the past, and the more you realize what actually HAPPENED in the past, and the more you try to IMAGINE what happened, the more you find yourself wondering about the present and how your future might turn out if such a thing were to ever happen to you. Or at any rate, that's what *I* wondered.

A colleague remarked afterwards that this may be the first Demme film in ages that hasn't used his trademark technique of showing actors' faces in tight close-up as they stare straight into the camera. It's a lot more loosey-goosey than that. Whoever said it was like a Dogma film was absolutely right: the movie even goes so far as to rely mostly or entirely on diegetic music, as opposed to the non-diegetic music that most movie soundtracks have. (In other words, when we hear music in this film, it is almost always being played by characters who are Right There on the set, as part of the story. And yet, often unbeknownst to the characters yet knownst to the filmmakers and the audience, their music serves the same purpose as most movie scores, commenting on the action or providing a sort of musical ambience, etc.)

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I was reminded a bit of some of the Romanian films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu or 4 Months, Three Weeks and 2 Days by the long shots and the uncomfortable intimacy of the scenes. It almost produces a bit of claustrophobic response.

The music is wonderful, even if the setup of a weekend long jam seems a bit of a stretch. It always strikes just the right emotional button. Especially the semi-mournful music being played in the distance while Kym is getting ready to leave.

It really strikes the right note of a family with an addict. I thought it was also worth noting that at the 12 step meeting, Kym says she's been clean for nine months -- she never uses the word sober. She really is a dry drunk.

I found it a great piece of artistic film making. The looseness of the script and direction let the actors really bring a bit of reality to the screen.

A good shot at being included in my year end list.

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Steve Sailer notes that the groom is named Sidney -- as in Sidney Poitier, star of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, or as in Sidney Lumet, father of Rachel Getting Married screenwriter Jenny Lumet (whose grandmother on her mother's side was the iconic African-American actress Lena Horne)?

More interestingly, he also notes that there may be some sort of parallel between the sibling relationship in the movie and the real-life relationship between Jenny and her own sister Amy (who was once married to P.J. O'Rourke, for whatever that's worth).

All very speculative, of course. But fun.

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I was at a panel on this film with Jenny Lumet and Jonathan Demme and all the major cast and one of the producers, and Jenny said that the dishwasher scene was directly lifted from something that happened at her house when she was a kid, between her father and . . . someone I can't remember, who was similarly famous and quirky. It was kind of delightful.

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I really liked this film, and the music was terrific. I was very impressed by Anne Hathaway's performance. When Kym walked into this wedding for the first time, she was such a tightly wound ball of need that could combust at any time.

The wedding reception seemed like a wedding version of Dave Chapelle's Block Party. Sure, it's hipster to the core, but it embraces it's mishmash of cultures so whole-heartedly it became an exuberant celebration. And how cool would it be to have Robyn Hitchcock perform at your wedding?

I predict that this film will be a big hit with White People :)

At the same time, the way the music was used through the film fit so well with what was going on with these characters. And the devastating emotional complexity of Kym made such a stark contrast to the "cool" of the rest of the wedding party. She wound up making me care about her.

Edited by Crow

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This is another one of those films where I wonder if I would have watched it differently, or had less of an emotional reaction to it, if I had seen it before having three kids of my own. There is Kim (the Anne Hathaway character), there is Rachel, and then there is ... someone we never see, except in photos. I hope to dear God my family never has to deal with what these people deal with. It took me a while to "get into" the film, but by the end, there was some pretty potent stuff, all the more so because there are no flashbacks or anything, just people living with the past, and the more you realize what actually HAPPENED in the past, and the more you try to IMAGINE what happened, the more you find yourself wondering about the present and how your future might turn out if such a thing were to ever happen to you. Or at any rate, that's what *I* wondered.

I don't think one should have watched it differently or had less of a reaction, though I understand one might. Certainly I loved the film and was moved to tears in a couple of places, though I am a single man with no children.

But yes, it is sheer brilliance, emphasizing the film's present-tenseness, that it doesn't show any flashbacks, particularly to

Kym's fatal DUI crash that killed the brother

, which a lesser film might have included, particularly since the movie's present tense has a mirror scene of

Kym deliberately crashing a car while in the depths of despair

i.e., the same character doing the same thing.

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Pretty much a knockout, but what's with all the focus on Hathaway? I realize she's playing against type, and doing it well, but has anyone else given it up for Rosemarie DeWitt, who I'd never seen in anything, and who has, IMHO, the more difficult role of Rachel, trying to include her basket-case sister in her Big Day, but not willing to accommodate her every request (unlike her dad, Bill Irwin -- and has anyone given it up for Irwin, who isn't as complex a character, but very well played)?

So it's a great ensemble piece. I liked the guy who played the best man as well.

Gosh, there isn't much about this film that I didn't like, a lot. Probably Demme's best since before Silence of the Lambs, which, as good as it is at what it does, doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I knew as soon as Rachel ended that it was a much more meaningful film, if not as precise and focused a work as some of Demme's other films.

I've never been a huge Demme fan; this film has me reconsidering, and wondering if it's time to revisit Something Wild, or some of his other well received, but lesser known works.

Edited by Christian

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As posted in the 2008: Year in Lists thread, the LA Weekly / Village Voice poll has this to say about its ranking of Rachel Getting Married:

Unusual for both building a consensus and stirring ardent feelings, WALL-E scored most passionately. But the poll

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Saw this, finally.

Loved it. LOVED it.

Cristian wrote:

... but has anyone else given it up for Rosemarie DeWitt, who I'd never seen in anything, and who has, IMHO, the more difficult role of Rachel, trying to include her basket-case sister in her Big Day, but not willing to accommodate her every request (unlike her dad, Bill Irwin -- and has anyone given it up for Irwin, who isn't as complex a character, but very well played)?

As soon as the credits rolled, I nearly shouted to my friend Bryan, "WHO IS ROSEMARIE DEWITT, AND WHERE DID SHE COME FROM?!" She is incredible. Not to mention rather unnervingly gorgeous. I haven't seen a supporting actress turn in 2008 to compare. Oscar! Oscar!

And Irwin... brilliant.

I think I've just seen my favorite Jonathan Demme film, and it's time to make my first major Top Ten revision. I'm thinking this is #4...

Edited by Overstreet

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I'm thinking this is #4...

That's right where I have it. I've considered moving it higher, but can't quite figure out which title I'd swap out. So it remains number 4.

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Overstreet wrote:

: As soon as the credits rolled, I nearly shouted to my friend Bryan, "WHO IS ROSEMARIE DEWITT, AND WHERE DID SHE COME FROM?!" She is incredible. Not to mention rather unnervingly gorgeous. I haven't seen a supporting actress turn in 2008 to compare. Oscar! Oscar!

I was rather amused a few weeks ago to see ads for this film and I've Loved You So Long side-by-side in the paper, since they looked almost exactly the same: a big close-up on the lead actress's face, quotes from various critics saying how great the movie and/or actress were, etc. And of course, both films concern women estranged from their families (for surprisingly similar reasons) who come home to reconnect, in some fashion, with those families -- and with their sisters in particular.

And in both cases, all the awards hoopla was directed at the main characters, but I kept looking at the "sister" actresses and thinking, "Wow, they're pretty good too."

: I think I've just seen my favorite Jonathan Demme film . . .

What was it before this point?

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Silence of the Lambs... or Stop Making Sense. (I did like The Truth about Charlie more than most folks too.)

Is he the most versatile director out there? I'm trying to think of another to compare.

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Silence of the Lambs... or Stop Making Sense. (I did like The Truth about Charlie more than most folks too.)

Is he the most versatile director out there? I'm trying to think of to compare

strongest comparison i can wrap my mind around might be Martin Scorsese who shares the same sense towards music in his work...and the versatile range of both their work runs a bit parallel in artistic merit as well.

The Last Waltz analogous to Stop Making sense....

After Hours and King of Comedy ---- Something Wild , Married to the Mob

then each have their major films,

Raging Bull ---- Silence of the Lambs

and they following up and solidify their position as part of the canon with:

Good Fellas ---- Philadelphia

over the years putting out pet projects as:

Age of Innocence/Gangs of New York and here with Rachel Getting Married?

with each revisiting yet again the rock n roll genre with documentarys on:

Rolling Stones ---- Neil Young.

edit: then it all unravels as considering Taxi Driver, Last Temptation, and Kundan --

Edited by Jacques

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Chris Knight, in an amusing review of Bride Wars that compares that film to World War I (presumably because there's nothing better to do, really, when spending your time on a review of a film of that sort), raises a question that had occurred to me the other day too:

The film also manages to set back the cause of feminism to somewhere around 1955, and could sink the Oscar hopes of Hathaway, so brilliant in last year's Rachel Getting Married, in which she was always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Recall Eddie Murphy's decision two years ago to follow up one fantastic supporting part in Dreamgirls with three horrible leading roles in Norbit.

And in Murphy's case, the films didn't have titular themes in common!

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Dennis Dale:

Here we have the most vital expression of any given culture, the marriage ceremony, and it is imagined as a palimpsest featuring any culture but one's own. The effect is not broadening, as they imagine, but deadening. . . .

Think of two classic films--the Godfather and The Deer Hunter--and the remarkable wedding scenes that anchor their first acts, defining a community in a given time and place, and compare them to this film, which expresses nothing so much as the profound lack of confidence that these people brandish as proof of their moral superiority. . . .

And all the scrupulous inclusion only adds up to condescension in the end. Note the black people in the film--smiling caricatures, for all--or because of-- the effort to portray them counter-stereotype. The groom is so well-mannered and mild that he's barely there. . . .

FWIW, I think I read somewhere recently that the groom was originally written as white, or as being of no particular race. But I could be wrong about that. If true, though, then I wonder how far this particular line of criticism can be pushed (and I wonder how much rewriting was done, or not done, with regard to the groom's family and their more-spiritual tendencies, etc.).

FWIW, I don't assume that the film necessarily WANTS us to embrace the glib cultural pastiche on display here. I like Karina Longworth's take on this (emphasis added):

. . . But the lack of racism amongst the two families plays into a larger issue, one which engulfs those dreaded saris as well. Holed up in their sprawling Connecticut manse, Rachel and family are cut off from the functioning world by virtue of their obvious immense wealth. Rich, sheltered people do

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Dennis Dale:

Here we have the most vital expression of any given culture, the marriage ceremony, and it is imagined as a palimpsest featuring any culture but one's own. The effect is not broadening, as they imagine, but deadening. . . .

Think of two classic films--the Godfather and The Deer Hunter--and the remarkable wedding scenes that anchor their first acts, defining a community in a given time and place, and compare them to this film, which expresses nothing so much as the profound lack of confidence that these people brandish as proof of their moral superiority. . . .

And all the scrupulous inclusion only adds up to condescension in the end. Note the black people in the film--smiling caricatures, for all--or because of-- the effort to portray them counter-stereotype. The groom is so well-mannered and mild that he's barely there. . . .

WARNING: Rant ahead.

This is the sort of conservative criticism that makes me think it's all pointless. I could also mention embarrassing reviews by Barbara Nicolosi and James Bowman. It's not that these three people (and I could add Dirty Harry's sight-unseen jibes) didn't like a movie that I think one of the year's best; they are entitled to their wrong opinions. But to see so many righties capable of much better so **miss the boat** from the same lazy knee-jerk unthought is ... depressing. "It's about people we don't like, therefore it's bad" is really the sum total of their thoughts on RACHEL GETTING MARRIED.

Doesn't Dale, to name the one quoted here, realize that the wedding scene in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED just as much "defin[es] a community in a given time and place" as the scenes in THE GODFATHER and THE DEER HUNTER? A different community, with a different set of mores and values, sure. Max Weber said that the critique of Nietzsche's Last Man can't be that he's unhappy, but that his happiness is nauseating. Have conservatives become so prudish about our intellectual pedigree that we can no longer even see a film where multiculti boboism is an "express[ion of] ... the profound lack of confidence that these people brandish as proof of their moral superiority"? That the film and/or its black characters and/or the viewer are somehow unaware of this condescension? Or that this multiculti boboism plays itself out this way in other details in this family's dynamic? Or, to take the film at its most basic, that multiculti boboism isn't exactly portrayed as attractive, all-ends-happy in any of the conventional ways? Can people even **see** any more?

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Amen.

This community was so interesting to me precisely because it was wildly improbable, full of interesting tensions, and broken in so many ways. And yet, there was admirable courage in how these families came together and tried to make something work without losing their own personalities, characters, and cultures.

I was fascinated by it the way I am fascinated by audacious fusion experiments in world music. It's like playing with a chemistry set, bringing such disparate groups together just to see what might happen. Just as rock can't achieve what classical music can achieve, but what it can achieve is unique to rock, so there are certain things that can never happen in this kind of community, and yet there are also rare, wonderful, and surprising things that could only happen in this community.

I loved this film, I believed in its characters, and I never once felt any character devolving into caricature. I wanted to go there. I wanted to spend more time with these people. Cheesy as that line sounded in the preview, I found myself nodding in agreement when Sidney's mother observed that there was something of heaven in their gathering. There's a lot of horrible misbehavior in this film, but there are also moments of genuine grace and joy that I rarely feel at the movies. Moments that could not have been possible without that context of pain and misunderstanding.

I saw Nicolosi's review before I saw the film, and I remember thinking, "Wow, even Ted Baehr puts more critical thinking into a review than that."

Edited by Overstreet

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vjmorton wrote:

: This is the sort of conservative criticism that makes me think it's all pointless.

On the contrary, I think it makes your work all the more pointful! (If that's a word.) Y'know, kind of in an "I'm inspired by bad art more than good art, because *I* can certainly do better than THAT" kind of way. :)

: "It's about people we don't like, therefore it's bad" is really the sum total of their thoughts on RACHEL GETTING MARRIED.

At the risk of playing devil's advocate, I wonder if it hinges on the fact that, to paraphrase your review, the "parody" of the culture in this movie is "unintentional". That is, the filmmakers may indeed identify with this culture, and may even be blind to its deficiencies, and thus these critics may see the film as a positive expression of that culture rather than as a critique of that culture. To put this another way, these conservative critics may have been unable to separate the filmmakers from the culture depicted in this film just as the filmmakers themselves may be unable to separate themselves from the culture depicted in this film; the "people we don't like" would be not only the characters but also the filmmakers. (Ah, but can we not judge a film for ITSELF, based on what it is and what it does, rather than based on who made it? Don't works of art often have meanings that were never intended by the artists? Etc., etc.)

This is one reason why I value Karina's review so much, BTW, because she makes no claim to be a rightie, yet she is still capable of acknowledging the over-the-top Boboism and penetrating its deeper significance within the film. I value your review too of course, for similar though slightly different reasons. (Or maybe the reasons aren't all that different; maybe it's just that what is "surprising" in your review is not "surprising" in Karina's, and vice versa.)

Overstreet wrote:

: And yet, there was admirable courage in how these families came together and tried to make something work without losing their own personalities, characters, and cultures.

How does the primary family (i.e. Rachel's) not "lose" its culture? Granted, some people will say that the excessive pastichey-ness of Bobo-hipster culture is a culture unto itself, but didn't you get the sense throughout the film that these people were co-opting so many OTHER cultures that they barely seemed to have anything that was authentically their own? (I guess this critique could apply to Sidney's family as well, since he is a full participant in this multi-culti ceremony. But if the old stereotypes apply and the wedding is basically the bride's doing, then the critique would mainly be targeted at her family rather than Sidney's.)

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I guess they struck me as a family with artistic sensibilities who find it easy and even enjoyable to celebrate a variety of styles, cultures, and expression. Really, what would you advise them to do? "Um, Sir, I know these are your friends and all, but really, shouldn't you do some research into your family history and figure out what you're supposed to be doing?"

I work at a school that strives to be inclusive for all kinds of cultures, and that regularly takes a concert called Reconciled on tour... and it's an inspiring, boisterous musical celebrating fusing different rhythms, traditions, and experiences. I felt some of that spirit here.

Edited by Overstreet

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This thread doesn't contain links to reviews written by any of us.

Please, if you've reviewed this, post a link!

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Overstreet wrote:

: I guess they struck me as a family with artistic sensibilities who find it easy and even enjoyable to celebrate a variety of styles, cultures, and expression. Really, what would you advise them to do? "Um, Sir, I know these are your friends and all, but really, shouldn't you do some research into your family history and figure out what you're supposed to be doing?"

Would I advise them to be members of an actual tradition rather than shamelessly superficial pomo thieves of countless other traditions? Especially when doing something as vital and central to the social fabric as a wedding? Yes. Yes I would.

At any rate, the question remains: what culture does Rachel's family have, and how do they not "lose" it? You said before that they had not "lost" their culture, and then I asked how, and now you reply that they enjoy variety -- but that doesn't really answer the question, does it? What are they GROUNDED in, culturally speaking? As a present-tense thing, not a past-tense "family history" thing? Anything?

: I work at a school that strives to be inclusive for all kinds of cultures, and that regularly takes a concert called Reconciled on tour... and it's an inspiring, boisterous musical celebrating fusing different rhythms, traditions, and experiences. I felt some of that spirit here.

Well, a wedding is hardly a concert tour. Though I realize many people nowadays think of weddings as nothing but one big party.

At any rate, the key point here is that, if someone says "I DON'T like these people, therefore I don't see why I should like this movie," one of the least persuasive answers you can give is, "I DO like these people, therefore I like this movie (and you probably should too)."

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When Anne and I were married, our wedding employed music from many different genres and styles... including movie soundtracks.

You would thus conclude that we are "shameless, superficial thieves"?

I, on the other hand, conclude that we chose music that was meaningful and beautiful to us, rather than feeling bound to some particular cultural tradition. We wanted to be creative, surprising, and festive. We don't come from a particular tradition that has strong, historic rules about these sorts of things, and we would have felt like posers if we put that on to appear as something we weren't.

We also only registered at art stores and book stores. Oh, how empty we are when it comes to culture and tradition!

This was a family of diverse interests, experiences, and imaginations. What is important to them comes from all over the place, and more importantly, *who* they are interested in, who they are honoring, and who they are welcoming influences the way they're creating the wedding.

I like the idea of a wedding that includes styles and gestures to the traditions of others involved in the wedding; souvenirs of past adventures; symbols of future adventures. You don't have to like it, no. But I see this wedding as a sign of imagination and generosity and curiosity, not to mention an admirable range of delights. I don't see it as some kind of grand, empty muddle.

Edited by Overstreet

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