Thursday, November 20, 2008

Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married

For those of us who consider ourselves unfortunate to either come from highly dysfunctional families or to have survived the tragic loss of a family member who was only a child, Rachel Getting Married offers an access button into the glorious highs we may have forgotten as we buried the devastating lows in our emotional past.

This film does not glamorize the life of an addict like, say, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, a reality show on VH1. Yet, Rachel Getting Married does succeed in revealing the poetry of angst. Among the extra sensitive and extremely gifted, addiction or mental illness — often at the core of addiction — can seem like an inherited gene.

I had a sister who struggled with addiction for most of her young life, which ended at the age of 26. Anne Hathaway so brilliantly captured the moments I remember of my sister when she would be in a gathering, yet feel as if she were in a world all her own. She'd stand on the outside looking in with this pang of longing to come closer, yet it was as if she felt her insecurities were a swarm of bees around her that she was afraid would sting others if she got too close, so she always took life in from an aching distance.

Even though while watching the film I went through my entire mini pack of candy crumb infested Kleenex, the emotional release was cathartic. It reminded me of all the tiny, enchanted moments that filled my family's lives, which were scattered amongst the big, painful scenes that changed us. My sister was incredibly intelligent, deeply compassionate and somewhat of a natural, comic genius. During the long seasons when her mental illness and addiction seemed to take the air out of every room like one humid, hard to breathe day after the next, that unique life force of hers would suddenly breeze through, cool us off, invigorate our fatigue, and make us laugh so hard I needed my inhaler to catch my breath. It would bring a deep magical feeling of hope back into our hearts.

I related to every character in this film — the "normal" sister whose accomplishments were dwarfed by the drama that her troubled sister's illness consumed, the mother who detached from everyone she was biologically connected to so as not to hurt so deeply, and the over-protective, emotional father who was portrayed exquisitely by Bill Irwin, as were all the roles including Rosemarie Dewitt as the normal sister and Debra Winger as the mother. Even the cameos were gems of artistic perfection (Anna Deavere Smith and newcomer Tunde Adebimpe, to name a few). Anne Hathaway as Kym, reached a new personal mountain of truth and has earned her privilege to be considered a genuine talent. The acting was phenomenal, the likes of which I haven't seen since the 1980s in Kramer vs. Kramer.

Jonathan Demme, as director, is at his most raw, vulnerable and accessible. He has accomplished truly fine filmmaking with his latest love letter to living. This is a slice of life film captured in a quasi-documentary, voyeuristic, home movie style — one of my favorites. I feel that it's what Woody Allen wishes his films could be if he were capable of being fully present with the true multi-faceted nature of life and move beyond his two favorite subjects: infidelity and Crime and Punishment rehashing.

Rachel Getting Married has an incredibly natural unscripted feel. Like the perfect vacation, the film flows and lingers where desired. The long shots of atmosphere viewing void of dialogue made me feel like a part of the scene. The film was filled with actors and non-actors alike and an eclectic group of interesting artists — particularly musicians. I came from such roots.

Now, most of my musician friends have gone on to such success that their music is primarily sequenced into a computer whereas it used to be played live in my living room. This is one of the primary beauties of this film. It captures elegantly the luxury of exploration on the road to success or recovery or just, life — the collection of meaningful moments that paves the path of our often anxiety filled journeys and those experiences we miss having once we reach our desired destination. I don't miss lugging equipment from one gig to the next, but I do miss having my home filled with live music on a regular basis. I don't miss the treacherous pain my sister endured; but I do passionately miss those moments of bliss when she made us all feel like such a connected, cohesive family unit.

As we make our transition from collegic freedoms to adult responsibilities, we tend to strive for balance. For most of us, the dramas of our youth die down as routine sets in; and one day we realize we have reached that plateau of normality that we were striving for. Our emotional state becomes fairly even keel and we feel a sense of pride in that. Then a film like Rachel Getting Married comes along and reminds us of the adrenaline that unexpected peaks and valleys create. Memories are created with high surges of adrenaline. They create the splash of color that illuminates most people's safe beige décor. The unexpected is not where I want to live, but I'm sure glad I have a scrapbook from my travels to and from those adrenaline drenched places of exhilaration.

Of course, not everyone is going to come away from this film with the same impressions I have. I can imagine many people in my life quipping, "It's too depressing. Too slow. Too filled with drama." If you are a person who goes to the movies to escape and you prefer romantic comedies or action adventures, then Rachel Getting Married, may not be your cup of tea. If however, you escape to go on expeditions of the spirit which can take you deep within your life or at the very least the lives of others and you miss the filmmaking pace that was more prevalent between 1960-1980, then you might very well appreciate this film as much as I have.