Monday, October 20, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

This weekend, we saw a great movie.

It's been a while since Ms Dr Hemodynamics and I have had an actual date, what with lots of night float shifts, lots of moving and fire logistics, and lots of just plain being overwhelmed by events. But Friday night we had a great date. When we met in medical school one of the first conversations we had was after I said I'd just seen The Station Agent and how I thought it felt--in its smallness, its authenticity, and most of all its particularness, the way it was a story just about these people and no one else--like You Can Count On Me. She said, "I loved that movie!" and that started one of those early conversations where we realized we had some tastes and ways of looking at the world that might match up. Another one of those conversations took place at the B-Side Lounge, a restaurant not far from a movie theater we like, where we went for our first date.

So last night, as if to restart our dating life after all the chaos in our lives, we went to the movies and then the B-Side. The movie was Rachel Getting Married, written by Jenny Lumet (Sidney Lumet's daughter) and directed by Jonathan Demme. The writing is smart, with natural-sounding dialogue supporting a tightly-structured story. The casting is so rich and the acting so good that even minor characters seem like interesting people, believable people. And like The Station Agent and You Can Count On Me, these characters don't belong anywhere else except in this story, this movie, and for that reason, they fill the movie and seem to live beyond it. Demme keeps the hand-held cameras moving, but close-in; we are guests at this wedding, not omniscient viewers.

Anne Hathaway is the center of the movie as Kym, Rachel's addict sister, back from rehab on furlough to see her sister get married. She starts the movie as a completely irritating and totally self-centered person who seems mostly frustrated that her sister's wedding is not really about her. Kym never turns into an angel, but the depth of her character and the complexity of her relationship to her family slowly evolves beyond addiction's irritating interpersonal effects and into its more profound pain and tragedies. I ended up feeling strongly connected to her even as her tally of bad deeds and pain caused becomes larger and more awful as the movie goes on. The movie seems as if it is about her, and thus about a family's relationship to an addict--and it is. But we come to realize the movie is also about something and someone else: a family's relationship to a person who isn't present at all, except in all the main characters' thoughts.

The movie revolves around Kym, and that means it's not a big sprawling multi-character document of a family; it's a much smaller movie than that. Nonetheless, it becomes an ensemble movie because the actors playing the other characters are compelling and interesting enough that you begin to get a sense of them as people just by watching them watch Kym. Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Tunde Adebimpe are all people with their own creative agendas, and their intelligence and watchfulness is part of what makes each of them so compelling as actors.

I'd love to know Kym and Rachel's dad, played by Irwin--he's a sweet, generous-spirited guy--but he'd clearly do well to get himself to a Nar-Anon meeting before he offers someone another sandwich. Irwin, a guy who has taken clowning to a new level of art, and plays Elmo's friend Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street, uses his big mobile face to underline the desperation of his hope that happiness can reign. His expressiveness and hope is contrasted with the cool distance of Debra Winger as Kym and Rachel's mother, who makes a late appearance in the wedding proceedings and in the movie, but makes every second count.

Tunde Adebimpe, of the band TV On The Radio, plays the groom, Sidney. He is a large almost awkward-seeming man, but his gentle kindness amidst the emotional chaos make it clear why Rachel needs him, and why she is so delighted to be marrying him. Sidney and his friends and family stand in contrast to Rachel and Kym's tense prickly family web. They are constantly in the background of the movie as a vision of ease and happiness that Rachel is trying to grab for, and Kym thinks she'll never have.

Go see it.

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