Hollywood likes to squeeze a little more milk out of the DVD cow by occasionally re-releasing an old movie as an (inevitably longer) "Director's Cut." Sadly, we never get to buy a shorter "Editor's Cut." With luck, director Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" will be the first. Buried under more than an hour of Demme's Sixties noodling is a nifty sixty-minute family drama.
Demme, who was born in 1944 (in between George Harrison and Keith Moon), was a sort of idiot savant music video genius, who in 1984 made the best ever rock concert movie, Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense." His 1986 masterpiece "Something Wild" incorporated the nascent "world music" trend delightfully. Unfortunately, the title "Stop Making Sense" proved prophetic. Demme's shambolic 1992 Academy Award acceptance speech for "Silence of the Lambs" may be the most incomprehensible yet.
As Demme's musical-visual gifts dimmed, he turned to "liberal humanist" (i.e., boring) message movies such as "Philadelphia," in which Tom Hanks proves that homophobia caused the AIDS epidemic (rather than, say, industrial-scale gay promiscuity). After Demme's useless remakes of "Charade" in 2002 and "The Manchurian Candidate" in 2004, the industry seems to have concluded that he doesn't have enough brain cells left to handle a big production. Thus, the low budget "Rachel Getting Married" looks like an amateur wedding video. Half the film consists of Demme's not-as-hip-as-they-used-to-be friends improvising tedious toasts and mediocre music.
The movie's better half stars a charismatic Anne Hathaway (a heretofore-bland leading lady whose dark eyebrows made most of the impression in "The Devil Wears Prada") as Kym, an attentionaholic part-time model turned full-time drug addict who is furloughed from a posh rehab clinic for her sister's wedding. Exactly as her levelheaded sister Rachel dreads, Kym's self-destructive antics enthrall the multicultural throngs crowding the grounds of their father's Connecticut estate to prepare for Rachel's big day on which the Reform rabbi is to marry her to a tall, gentlemanly black man from Hawaii.
The highlight of the ceremony is the groom singing his bride a Neil Young ballad. White liberals critics have gone nuts over "Rachel" because the interracial marriage reminds them of a certain black Hawaiian's promise that promoting "mutual understanding" is "in my DNA." I fear, though, that even electing Obama President won't get many black guys to understand the appeal of whiny Canadian folk rockers from the Sixties.
First-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet named the groom "Sidney." She is presumably referencing both Sidney Poitier in Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," and her father, Sidney Lumet, director of 1957's "Twelve Angry Men," one of Kramer's successors as a liberal warhorse.
Various shocking revelations about Kym's culpability in the death a decade before of their little brother ensue, culminating in a confrontation with her mother (1980s legend Debra Winger of "An Officer and a Gentleman" making one of her myriad, but still welcome, comebacks). "Rachel Getting Married" has a decent little plot if you like upscale suburban family tragedies in the tradition of "Ordinary People." Lumet handles the disclosures about the death of the child realistically and effectively. Rather than build up to stagey moments, jagged shards of information are blurted out before you can prepare your emotional defenses.
Still, a more entertaining screenplay could be written about the star's off-screen misadventures. Hathaway was in the news in June when the FBI hauled away her suave Italian boyfriend, Raffaello Follieri. Outfitted with clerical cassocks and a claim to be the Vatican's chief financial officer, Follieri had wormed his way into a $100 million deal with Bill Clinton and Ron Burkle to sell off Roman Catholic churches in America to pay for sex scandal settlements. On a rented yacht in Montenegro, the bipartisan cute couple also hosted the 70th birthday party of John McCain.
An equally entertaining movie could be made about the real-life Lumet sisters (who are granddaughters of famed jazz vocalist and beauty Lena Horne). When their dad received his Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2005, screenwriter Jenny, the sensibly dressed old-fashioned leftist, had the global television spotlight stolen from her by the startling new cleavage of her sister Amy, a would-be model and 1992 National Review contributor ("Baby Cons of America, unite: You have nothing to lose but your parents' guilt.") Interestingly, Amy Lumet's marriage to hard-partying conservative satirist P.J. O'Rourke broke up about when she is said to have worked for John McCain.
Now, Jenny / Rachel has taken sibling rivalry to a new level.
Rated R for language and brief sexuality.
January 9, 2009
Here's my review for The American Conservative of last fall's "Rachel Getting Married," which is still relevant because Anne Hathaway appears to be the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar. (This is the version as I wrote it, not as it was printed, so don't blame the magazine for my gratuitous scandal-mongering conclusion in which, based on almost no evidence, I insinuate that John McCain may have broken up P.J. O'Rourke's marriage to the real-life model for Anne Hathaway's character.)