Saturday, September 06, 2008

TIFF08—Rachel Getting Married

With Declan Quinn's unsteady and restless camera, Jonathan Demme observes the unsteady and restless dynamics of yet another American family traumatized into dysfunction. Fresh from rehab, Kym (Anne Hathaway, who at her wide-eyed worst looks like Liza Minnelli at her wide-eyed best) veers into the Buchman family's wedding preparations for sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Appreciative of the flagrant disregard for the rules of formula favored by screenwriter Jenny Lumet (Sidney's daughter), Demme and Quinn endeavor to emulate Lumet's heedlessness by creating "the most beautiful home movie ever made." But—as ever—beauty is in the bereft gaze of the beholder.

By refusing to not direct the movie tightly, never rehearsing before filming, rarely planning a shot in advance, and striving for a documentary feel that keeps the spontaneity factor as alive as possible, Jonathan Demme proves just how self-serving spontaneity can be. Believing he has channeled the spirit of Robert Altman in his portrayal of complex, not thoroughly likeable characters who nonetheless inspire concern, I care about as much as I can for any messed-up family that is not my own. I'm certainly embarrassed when they're out of control and hurting each other in public, bludgeoning each other with unbridled honesty and shaming recriminations.

Despite the familial tension and the threat of rain, Rachel's wedding is a feast of musicality, perhaps too much so. In chasing each spontaneous quarter note, the film meanders a half hour too long. I would have preferred a tighter edit, a firmer hand, and at least a tripod now and then. Bill Irwin and Debra Winger as emotionally irresponsible parents—the father for caring too much and the mother too little—are the film's main asset for proving that, yeah, sometimes your parents really are the ones who have screwed you up afterall. Irwin's Tony-award winning turn as George in the staged revival of Who's Afraid of Virgnia Woolf? has clearly secured him casting opportunities as bedraggled husbands rendered ineffectual by denial; he mixes pathos and tragedy in acutely human proportions. Debra Winger—truly lovely to behold—joins the ranks of performances such as Mary Tyler Moore's Beth Garrett in Ordinary People as mothers so emotionally closed off that they damage their children.

As family friends repeatedly express their disbelief that the Buchman daughters have grown up and Rachel is getting married, the truth is more likely that childhood simply can't wait for the parents to grow up. By film's end all these quasi-adults and their home movies left me caring very little about just when that might be. God bless 'em and all their tumultuous family reunions.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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