Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rachel Getting Married: The Best Film of 2008

If Rachel has a cinematic father, then he would be John Cassavetes. Cassavetes has long been held as the "father" of modern American independent film at least thematically. His films often took a very painful and realistic look at life with a focus on the finger-pointing inward. His characters are extremely vulnerable, and the audience gets more than a glimpse of pure human emotion.

Cassavetes was never heralded as a visual visionary. He chose his subjects in natural light, in realistic settings, and the hand-held camera was primary. Music was infrequent. It seems now, Cassavetes' vision has won the day also in this arena. His work is always welcome for a visit.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is a beautiful film about a woman's (Gena Rowlands) decline into mental illness and the effect it has upon her husband (Peter Falk) and her children. In a perfect quiet scene, Falk accompanies his three small children home in the back of a work truck. As they huddle together, Falk shares intermittent sips of beer with his children. The quiet continues as he puts the children to bed as he arrives home. Cassavetes films the scenes, as if he were one sitting amongst the characters in the back of the truck or laying aside one of the children. It's a powerful quiet film which has affected me for a very long time.

Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married (2008) is a child of A Woman Under the Influence. Stylistically and thematically, it is a film that Cassavetes could craft for today. Anne Hathaway gives an amazing, heart-felt performance as the lead. When she gives a speech at the wedding rehearsal, it was easy to feel the other characters' embarrassment and the shunning she received as she tried her best. Emotions were new to this character, and Hathaway portrayed an unbelievable amount of vulnerability. Another beautiful scene involves Rachel bathing Kym the morning of her wedding--no dialogue, just the images, and it is incredibly haunting. Demme, like any master filmmaker, imbues life into every character. All are capable of understanding and all are loved (at least a little bit) by the viewer. Exposition is minimal, because it's not needed. The characters speak for themselves.

To say this one is a must-see is an understatement.

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