Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Thursday, March 26, 2009


It has become somewhat fashionable to confuse nihilism with realism and to credit shallow filmmakers with depth merely because their themes are resoundingly negative. It's a cynical conceit which equates hope with naivete. Jonathan Demme has often been attacked as naive for the supposed la-la land of liberalness he depicts onscreen. Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Gays, Straights, Bush, Obama; everyone is invited to his Starship Enterprise with open arms. The truth lies less in Demme's perceived naivete than in the childish cynicism of his critics. It's cynical to believe that people can never see the humanity in others beyond their social or cultural differences. Demme has never made a film in which these differences were ignored, in fact, they are most often celebrated. Not since the great Jean Renoir has there been a filmmaker more inclined to allow everyone to "have their reasons." In Demme's cinematic world, there are no heroes, no villains, no simple right or wrong and there is nothing naive about that. Amidst the worst of human impulses and self destructiveness, Demme always portrays life as hopeful - not some Capra-esque nirvana of love and redemption but as a tough world full of complex choices and always with the unshakeable conviction that life does, indeed, go on. Even Hannibal Lector at the end of Demme's The Silence of the Lambs is allowed to have an old friend for dinner and the hope of a new life somewhere far from the grip of the FBI.

Rachel Getting Married, Demme's latest film, is like a digest for everything he has stood for as a filmmaker since 1974's women-in-prison classic Caged Heat. In truth, the film often seems less like an actual narrative than a kind of Demme art happening. His sweeping and very democratic visual style seems to have been fused with the ideas behind the Danish Dogme movement and the all inclusive collaborative cinematic murals of Robert Altman. The story is simplicity itself: On a weekend pass from a rehab facility, recovering addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) comes home to attend her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding and is very much aware that all eyes are on her from the instant she's picked up. Her father Paul (Bill Irwin) is way too overprotective, while her sister Rachel seems to want her to vanish, having picked her best friend Emma (Anisa George) over her as maid of honor. But neither of them is a match for her mother, Abby (Debra Winger) whose distance from her children is rivaled only by that of Mary-Tyler Moore in Ordinary People...

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Anonymous said...

Good review. I agree -- it didn't seem at all forced, or, contrived, to have people of so many different backgrounds coming together. It is the cynicism of the viewer if they believe it so unpossible.

On a weird note:

After watching 'Rachel Getting Married', right when Rachel sits down to listen to the players play, I suddenly felt this wave of Deja Vu as if I had seen this film before.

It was such a strong feeling.

This is not bad. I thoroughly enjoyed the flick. This seemed more like I was required, somehow, to view this film. As if it was going to help me somewhere down the line.

Well, I was writing a script I like to call: a family drama set to the music of science-action.

Ehh, so its science fiction with lots of action in it, but the family drama comes first. And this film was an excellent example of family drama done in an interesting fashion.

Especially the dishwasher scene. So original.

Brian said...

Thanks, Michael. I think the thing that can be learned or rather absorbed by films like this one-and the films of Robert Altman as well as some of those by Lars Von Trier-is how to reinvigorate familiar stories partly through the way in which you stage the action.

There isn't much new in the film in the way of "story", it's a familiar tale of a black sheep who returns to the flock and shakes things up. But the handheld, loose style and the matter of fact performances make the party seem authentic and the plot points and character details seem less "presented" than casually observed by the viewer just off in the corner a bit.

Von Trier has used this technique in his "Dogma" films to reinvigorate soap opera and melodrama by shooting them in this verite style as well.

But you make a good point about the dishwasher scene. That was very original. I had suspected that this was something that actually happened to the writer since it's a weird detail to just think up. On the audio commentary she doesn't say that but DOES say that it was a much smaller scene with just the father, the groom and the girls originally and that Demme wanted to make it a bigger moment by bringing everyone in there to cheer them on etc. So like many things it's a collaborative process.

Your idea of doing a family drama within the framework of sci-fi sounds like a very smart idea. The character drama will do much to reinvigorate the sci-fi concepts and vice-versa...