Sunday, December 21, 2008

Total Hollywood crap

Every word, every shot, every sound in Rachel Getting Married—in which Anne Hathaway's Kym gets out of rehab long enough to almost screw up her sister Rachel's wedding—is a fraud. It's hard to think of a more dishonestly manipulative movie this year. Nothing the characters say or do makes sense, because everything they say or do only serves one purpose: to lead to a confrontation or a crisis. Jenny Lumet's hack script throws consistency and psychological realism to the wind just so the actors can get their Oscar moments, while Jonathan Demme still thinks a handheld shakycam is shorthand for raw naturalism, ie authenticity in Hollywoodspeak.

Here's a typical example of the shams the film continually sets up. At one point, several characters including Kym and her dad (Bill Irwin) are gathered around a table, figuring out the sitting arrangements for the wedding. The discussion gets tenser, as it tends to do when Kym is involved; she asks her dad to continue it in private in the kitchen, away from the others. Next thing you know, the entire brood crashes their talk. And next next thing you know, Dad gets challenged by Sidney, his future son-in-law, into a preposterous contest to see who can most efficiently fill the dishwasher. And next next next thing you know, Kym haplessly passes on to Dad a plastic plate belonging to her now-dead little brother, provoking a sorrowful reaction.

Why is the family going to the kitchen after it's been made very clear that Kym and Dad want to have a private conversation? Why is the meek Sidney suddenly Mr. Macho, taunting his father-in-law? Why is the kid's plate still mixed in with the regular plates if it's going to upset the father so much? There's only one reason: to artificially provoke the kind of volatile show-offy situation modern Hollywood mistakes for drama. Rinse, repeat ad nauseam, as Rachel Getting Married staggers from one contrivance to the next.

Perhaps the biggest fraud of all is the reason behind Kym's self-destructiveness: high on percocets when she was 16, she was responsible for the death of the aforementioned younger brother. The death of a child is the kind of unimpeachable backstory Hollywood hacks love because it creates viewer empathy for a character out of thin air. In this case, it's even cheaper than cheap because it isn't even the reason for Kym being the way she is now: the film doesn't address why she was high on percocets to begin with.

As for the wedding itself, you just want to slap everybody involved. So many trite irritants, like, Why does it have an Indian theme when neither of the families seems to have a connection to India? Watching the endless parade of musical guests felt like sitting through an entire year of Joe's Pub programming in 30 minutes. (The one moment that rings true in the movie is when the idiots constantly playing the lute and the violin are asked if they could just stop for a fricking minute.) The film would have been at least bearable if Jonathan Demme had mocked earnestly multi-culti upper-middle-class celebrations. But no.


Dave said...

You left out the best part! The rehearsal dinner that made me want to chew my arm off in an attempt to escape.

Anonymous said...

You could not be more right. Thank you for speaking the truth about this awful, awful movie. I cannot believe the praise heaped on it, which (like a sucker) I believed enough to go see--much to my lasting chagrin. Although this is not an argument against your critique (indeed I think it reinforces it), you did neglect to mention the other grotesque fraud at work in the film, which is its false "indie"/ low-budget vibe. Go see Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy if you want to see Hollywood actors doing something genuinely worthwhile on film. It's a miracle.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I briefly touched upon the fake indie vibe when I mentioned the shakycam aesthetics but yes, it's a huge part of what makes the movie so revolting: Make it look like a documentary, as if it was somehow capturing something deep about the mores of a certain kind of upper middle class.

As for the rehearsal dinner: Pass the saag paneer!

Anonymous said...

I liked Anne Hathaway's performance, but I always like her -- I'm probably the only person who thought she was by far the best thing in "Brokeback Mtn." But every moment that she was off the screen, I can't believe how much I hated this movie for exactly the reasons you give! Especially the Indian-themed wedding and the fact that not one single person even seemed to be aware that the bride & groom weren't the same race. I'm all for interracial marriages, don't get me wrong, but it's still very much an unusual thing -- especially in the extremely expensive suburbs of Connecticut; so why couldn't they say so? Arggghhhhhh!

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I like Anne Hathaway as well, even if (because?) she looks like a manga character, all huge dark eyes and gaping mouth. She was particularly good on SNL a few months ago. But this movie is a horrible joke.

Ian Pelczar said...

You must be so sad, sad people. I believe your weddings were/will be so uptight and you did/will clean your house from everything what belonged to your departed family members, very next day after the funeral.