Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hathaway can act?!

Who'd a thunk it?

But, yes, Anne Hathaway -- she of The Princess Diaries and the sketchy Italian boyfriends -- is actually not a bad actress.

I base this on the extremely uneven movie, Rachel Getting Married, which she was far and away the best part of.

However, that being said, I would advise my readers against swallowing the hype that this is a great movie. It's not. But it's certainly a watchable movie (which might sound like faint praise, but is getting rarer and rarer these days).

It's not badly written in terms of dialogue. (The writer -- Jenny Lumet -- is the daughter of one of the greatest living filmmakers, Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of the great Lena Horne.) But it trafficked in an extremely large number of cliched situations. And while there were many well drawn characters, there were others that were barely penciled in.

The basic premise is that Rachel Buchman, the daughter in a divorced Jewish family, is about to get married to Sidney, a black musician. Her recovering drug-addict/drunk sister Kym (Hathaway) is let out of rehab to attend the wedding. Normal wedding angst (multiplied by a factor of 10) ensues.

I thought it was a pretty big copout that in a movie centered around an interracial wedding, this fact is never so much as mentioned even once. (Not once!) Not that it needed to be dwelled on at any great length -- but to not have it come up at all? Not even when the black and white members of the wedding party are alone? (The affectionate, good natured dad of the family has remarried a black woman, so maybe the audience is to assume this is a question that has already been covered. That hardly seems adequate.)

But, then, this movie takes place in Politically Correct Never Never Land.

Even though neither the bride nor the groom is Indian, they've decided on an Indian theme wedding. (Why an Indian wedding? It's never explained.) The friends and relatives who float through the Connecticut house where the ceremony takes place, are a walking Benetton ad. Asian. White. Black. Indian. All are there and literally singing along in the rehearsal dinner to a concert of different styles. Any angst involves a personal -- never a racial -- squabble. (Usually centered around Hathaway.)

But Sidney's family is not shown squabbling. They never utter a cross word. And Sidney, the groom, is a ghost of a character. He protests fervently that he loves and adores Rachel -- and she with equal fervency proclaims her love for him. But he is really just a groom -- completely scrubbed; looking like a perfectly nice guy; with nothing particularly interesting to say. Nothing offending to do. (Were Lumet and the director Jonathan Demme worried that if Sidney was also shown to be as fucked up as everybody else that he would lose some sort of dignity? An awfully patronizing way of presenting a character.)

Of course, Rachel Getting Married is not about the Sidney half of the wedding -- it's about the Rachel half of the wedding.

And while I didn't particularly care for the eponymous Rachel of the title, I thought that Hathaway was really very marvelous as the fucked up recovering basket-case.

I once dated a woman like Kym; too smart for her own good; too unwilling to deal with the boredom of every day life; self-pitying; unlucky and desperately unhappy. (Even though she is also cheerful a good part of the time -- and determined to have some sort of good time at this wedding.)

During the rehearsal dinner, when everyone sits around the table laughing and drinking (Debra Winger, who plays the Buchman family's biological mom, resembles a lioness looking over all her cubs), Kym merely fidgets and stares at her glass of seltzer.

She finally gets up to give a toast -- a rambling, slightly embarrassing (but nothing fatal) apology to her sister for all her years of misrule. And I, for one, was afraid for her as she spoke. As afraid as every other member of the wedding party, who refuse to laugh at her self-deprecating (and overly frank) comments. Probably as afraid as Kym is for herself. (Because whatever her other flaws, Kym is the only one at this wedding who seems self aware.)

And that's the way Kym stumbles through the movie.

She is never quite comfortable in her own skin -- which is something extremely difficult to pull off. And which is exactly the way people are whose lives have caved in on themselves.

When her sister Rachel lashes out at Kym's many indiscretions over the years, and the movie seems to be veering towards the treacly, Kym merely rolls her eyes and dismisses things out of hand. (As I said, she's the only one who's self aware.)

I could have done without the scenes in which Kym actually succumbs to the treacle. And I think there was one too many major confrontational arguments. (The minor arguments -- about, say, who gets to be the bridesmaid -- are much better.) But you can feel the nervous energy of this woman.

And Jonathan Demme directs this film much better than anything else I've seen of his over the last decade. He puts everything together like a Robert Altman movie, and I liked that. (Even if it was a little obvious.)

All in all, two-thirds of a good movie.