Are we the center of everything? Can we be the center without disrupting other centers? Smashing into each other, again and again. Ego against ego. Id against id. Timing is everything. Crashing into someone else’s time. Knocking that time off kilter like a shot blocker, like someone who moves the target, the goal posts, the field of drama, over and over again . . . .
March was an especially good month for DVD releases. Watched Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, and was knocked out by the realism, depth and honesty on display. It, too, dealt with the impact of pity (among many other things) on our lives and ties in well with Zweig’s book. There are also some faint echoes with another movie I reviewed here, I’ve Loved you for so Long
Two sisters. One with a tragic past. The impact on family, friends. Pity. Self-pity. Love, despite tremendous, shattering obstacles. Both movies handle this brilliantly.
Demme’s Rachel is an old story about a new kind of family. Or a new story about an old tradition being gently, almost seamlessly turned upside down. At least in part. It’s the genius of this film to show radical change without it feeling that radical, without it seeming like something unreal.
Kym (played by Anne Hathaway) is in rehab, a long time drug addict, and the cause of a terrible family tragedy. She is set free for a couple of days to see her sister (played by Rosemarie DeWitt) get married. And because she is the bull in the china shop, the person whose personal story is a magnet for love and pity, anger and resentment, she is coming home at the wrong time in many ways. She instantly becomes the center of attention at a time her sister should be. Naturally.
The set-up for the movie really isn’t very auspicious. It’s just too filled with chances to go wrong. Too many stories have already been done about sibling rivalries and jealousies, and too many have been done poorly, especially when weddings are involved. This story (by Jenny Lumet, Sidney’s daughter) takes a different tact, and I think the key here is the strong personality of Rachel. Even though her sister is a sort of enfant terrible, Rachel is no wall flower. The screenplay and the director choose to highlight Rachel’s love for her husband to be, their deep connection, and the wonderful interplay between the soon to be united families. This helps to offset the power of Kym’s personal story with a brilliant contrapuntal action.
Lumet and Demme never take the easy way out, and that just adds more depth. They complexify the situation by casting different ethnicities, by creating a sort of compressed multicultural odyssey for their characters. To further stretch cultural norms, husband and wife, black and white, decide to dress the women in the wedding in traditional Indian garb. The music at the gathering is even more varied, taking us around the world, with joy, with a furious mix of energy and emotion. Never forced. Certainly hip. Natural. Organic. Probably because the groom (played by Tunde Adebimpe) is in a band, as is the actor. The actor is the lead singer for TV On The Radio, a fusion band that symbolizes the mixing, meshing, and boundary-crossing inherent in the movie.
That multicultural stew, of course, could have been a trap as well. It could have been forced, all too didactic, or disneyish. Instead, because the script and the direction and the actors don’t call attention to the mix, it flows. Because no one in the movie tells us how wonderful it is to see so many cultures together, interacting, celebrating, we see how wonderful it truly is. We see that for ourselves.
The movie keeps the right balance of highs and lows, of intense, dark drama and emotion, along with raucous or quiet elation. It feels very real. People talk like real people. They stay silent when real people would react with silence. It feels like we’ve stumbled into a place and time (today, Connecticut) where chaos and closure happen, but loose ends generally rule the day. Life. We stumbled into life.