I hate to follow-up so quickly with my previous post, but I finally saw Rachel Getting Married and wanted to get all of my random thoughts down while this film’s still fresh on my mind.
Rachel is such a contrast to Changeling. Where Straczynski seemed to be more interested in historical accuracy, Jenny Lumet has the heart of a dramatist. Her characters come first. While Straczynski’s characters seemed cold and aloof at times, Lumet’s characters just burst to life and they’re so true and vivid (and full of needs and deception).
In fact, here’s a scene from the very beginning when Kym is picked up from rehab by her father and step-mother.
It’s interesting to note that Jenny Lumet wrote an unsympathetic protagonist in Kym (Anne Hathaway). There’s no other way to describe her. She’s a tornado of emotions and drama, and she’s not exactly likeable. But this kind of character is certainly recognizable to us. We know people like her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’d want to move in with her. This is not sympathy with a goal but rather a character with depth going through a tough transition in her life. Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so. In fact, this reminds me of Away From Her, another film I loved and wrote about.
But Rachel works, because Kym, with all of her faults, is surrounded by a range of sympathetic characters trying to cope with this difficult situation and we can relate to that. (This kind of story design is not new. I’m reminded of Mozart and his Diabolical Don G.) Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have all this drama surrounding a wedding, an occasion which evokes in and of itself the happiest feelings of love. But I’ve always believed that we are more satisfied by depth in protags than flat sympathy with a goal. Consider the opening fifteen minutes of Rachel and all the ways Lumet aims to show depth in Kym. We are given so many sides to her character – anticipation, anxiety, strength, weakness, rebellion, obedience, fear, courage, love, hate, tension, relief, and probably a dozen other emotions I failed to mention. That’s great stuff. That keeps you watching (and entertained).
Of course, Kym can be quite grating at times. She is self-centered. She is a drama queen. She may even be bi-polar. But Lumet’s point seems to be more about making us understand the sources of pain, which has a great social value. It’s so easy to hate people who are mean-spirited and selfish and think of them in inhuman terms like “freak” and reject them. But with Lumet, she helps us to understand and there’s value in that. There are no easy resolutions to these kinds of problems and once the wedding is over, the film thankfully, didn’t dip into so many clichés. There’s no closure. You know that Kym’s trials and tribulations will not end with her sister's wedding, and that’s true to life. Isn’t drama supposed to be about holding a mirror up to life?
I also want to mention that I admired the way Lumet kept the conflicts interesting. When two characters are going at it and the argument almost feels like it’s going on too long, Lumet reveals something new to keep the plot progressing forward. Nothing’s ever quite what it seems. That’s a good dramatist. I loved that about Jenny’s writing and would love to see more of her work.
Any criticisms? Yeah, a few. I don’t think the scenes between Kym and her mom really worked. That was the only time the conflicts felt forced and a bit contrived. The ending to the dishwasher showdown seemed forced to me. The ending (and who Kym leaves with) came out of nowhere to me and I’m not sure was the best choice. I’m also not quite sure how the multi-cultural wedding supported the theme or Kym’s story. If anything, there were too many scenes of celebration and partying to the detriment of story. While these are minor complaints and I love the film, I’m not sure it’s worthy of an Oscar.
BTW, Jenny Lumet is still fabulous.