Toronto 2008: 'Rachel Getting Married' and 'Orson Welles'

Rachelgetsmarried_lIt’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, thedocumentary-style hand-held camera became a major stylistic force inmovie drama—Martin Scorsese certainly gave it an early jolt of artistryin Mean Streets (1973)—but by now, we’ve all seen enough swervy,jittery, bobbing-camera film fictions to have grown all but immune tothe technique. In 1992, when Woody Allen went hand-held in Husbands andWives, it seemed a trendy affectation (and one that made more than afew people literally queasy). By the time the Dogma 95 movement cameabout, hand-held movies tended to win praise from critics for theirradical austerity, though to me the rawness of the visual technique in,say, The Celebration only highlighted the trumped-up fakery of what wasactually transpiring on screen. So when I tell you that Rachel GettingMarried, the new Jonathan Demme picture, is a family drama shot inlong, spontaneous takes with a hand-held camera that feels as jumpy andbrash as a home-video camcorder, you’d be perfectly justified if yousaid, "Yawn! What else is new?"

But Rachel Getting Married is something new indeed.It’s not just Demme’s images that are blistering and off-balance andintimately alive. So is everything that happens to the Buchanans, aprosperous Connecticut family who live on a beautiful leafy estate, andwho are marrying off their eldest daughter, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt),to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), who is some sort of hotshot in the musicbusiness. He is also African-American, a fact that the movieexquisitely ignores (though that doesn’t mean it isn’t central to thedramatic texture).

Rachel’s younger sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway, pictured), hasbeen an addict since she was a teenager. (Which drugs? How about all ofthem.) For this special occasion, she is being let out of rehab for theweekend. Getting cast as a compulsively self-loathing, frayed-nervesdrug casualty is certainly a stretch for an actress as lovely andred-carpet fresh as Anne Hathaway, yet from the moment she shows up,her eyes peering out with a junkie’s paranoid radar from beneath herLouise Brooks-helmet-slashed-with-a-straight-razor hair, the actresswires you into her rage and awareness. Kym is a walking disaster, but adisaster with feelers, and the effect she has on the other members ofher family is to electrify them with the dreaded truths she calls up.Hathaway is a revelation: She shoots far beyond giving a damn about her"likability" in a performance as scalding as it is controlled. Shemakes toxic narcissism magnetic.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a wedding movie that mademe feel, the way Rachel Getting Married does, as if I wasn’t justcrashing the event but was part of the family.

There’s a rehearsaldinner sequence that sprawls on for close to half an hour, and thespeeches people make are so revealing, stirring up so many awkward andtouching cross-currents among the gathered clans, that by the end of itI felt as if I’d known everyone in the room for years. That level ofrealism, as Robert Altman knew well, is captivating because it turnseven the most microscopic interactions into drama, and that’s the levelthat Demme is working on here. It helps that the script, by Jenny Lumet(Sidney’s daughter), is a fully woven web of love, jealousy, and a hostof enabling demons. Rachel Getting Married bears a notable similarityto Margot at the Wedding (which I liked), but this movie digs fardeeper into the tangled psychology of family relationships. When DebraWinger shows up as the sisters’ quasi-estranged mother (the parents aredivorced), Winger, her beauty aged into a queenly grandeur, onlymultiplies the tension. The spectacle of this biracial, melting-potwedding creates a fascinating frisson of its own—it’s a vision of a newworld. I wish that Demme, in the final act, hadn’t let the weddingmusic, by Sister Carol East and Robyn Hitchcock (among others), takeover his film. This much healing-by-’80s-hipster-taste is too much. ButRachel Getting Married is still a triumph for Demme—his best work sinceThe Silence of the Lambs, and a movie that tingles with life.

*

The new Richard Linklater film, Me and Orson Welles,is an affectionate period-piece showbiz comedy set in 1937, whenWelles, then 21, first blasted his way into the orbit of fame with hisMercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar. (It was the year beforehis infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.) There’s one great reason tosee the movie, and that’s Christian McKay’s performance as Welles. Helooks exactly like him—the boy-man baby face rounded out with alittle too much baby fat, the eyes that twinkle with all-knowingcharm—and McKay, who has played Welles on stage, does an altogetheruncanny impersonation of Welles the debonair egomaniac, who cut a swaththrough the Broadway world of stunned producers and leggy chorus girls.McKay gets that melting-butter voice to a T, and he makes the energyof Welles’ genius more than irresistible—he makes it contagious.

I wish I could say the same for Me and Orson Welles.Linklater has framed the weeks of frantic rehearsal leading up to thepremiere of Julius Caesar as the story of a naive young actor who talkshis way into Welles’ stock company, and Zac Efron, who plays thisbushy-tailed rube, is such a genial blank on screen that when he woosthe Mercury Theatre secretary (Claire Danes), we seem to have landed inthe middle of one of Woody Allen’s quaintest, most mediocre fables. Meand Orson Welles is always sweet, but except for McKay’s performance,it has so little fire that Orson Welles would have wondered out loudwhat he was doing stuck in the middle of it.      

Comments (21 total) Add your comment
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  • Lene

    I’m definitely looking forward to Rachel getting Married, but I wish filmmakers would cut down on that haldheld technique. A little works, too much makes you seasick. As well as taking attention away from what’s happening.

  • neil

    Go back to the seminal “Dr. Strangelove”. No handheld camera there but by way of Kubrick’s skilled direction there was certainly the illusion of a hand held camera during one combat scene.

  • joel

    good article but why diss woody allen twice? the hand-held camera paralleled the drama in husbands and wives really well.

  • Eric

    I have to disagree about Zac Efron. I thought he did a great job — much to my surprise. The movie may not have much fire, but I was utterly charmed.

  • David

    I loved Me and Orson Welles and didn’t find Efron a disappointment. Anyone who loves the theater will love the film. The whole cast is great.

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