“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
Hot Button Archive for September, 2008
God… I hate feeling like I have no choice but to address Crazy Nikki. But here we are… Nikki is the gossip columnist of the moment and here she goes, taking her source’s side, 100%, and as always, going so far off the deep end that she is exposing the source to ridicule for not being able to control their pet monkey.
Today, it is about The Reader.
I don’t know if it’s 42 West or Rudin’s office itself that is publishing its list of grievances in the guise of Nikki “reporting” the story (aka “opening her e-mail”), but when Nikki is “in possession of plaintive emails from Daldry, and angry letters from entertainment law pitbulls,” you know that she is passing along something that someone else is selling.
(Isn’t it ironic that on the same day she is “reporting” this and attacking Harvey, she continues to suck up to her bosses at Paramount, who have done no wrong by her assessment, in years?)
The tricky part is that all of this is interesting. Nikki, pretending to be unbiased, does deliver the lunchtime rage of one very self-interested side of the story. It’s not journalism. It’s gossip, as all of this inside baseball tends to be. But there is a value to it.
It occurs to me that all of media, online and off, is becoming a place where you not only have to read what is printed, but you have to very seriously consider where the information is really coming from and what the motives of both the sources and the outlets involved are. God knows, this is a big part of the media story this election cycle.
Take a look at Nikki’s thing.
I’ll offer a couple of notes here…
1) “The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s delivery date of November 7th” doesn’t exist. Movies are screened for the HFPA well after November 7 every year. I think she is referring to the joke known as The NBR.
2) Nikki parroting the dismissal that “Hollywood trades were also suckered by Weinstein’s other spin that Rudin… didn’t want his actors or his pictures competing against themselves. But that’s a ridiculous argument,” is, in fact, ridiculous.
This is spin from the Rudin camp, which would like people to believe that they are not concerned that The Reader will pull focus from Revolutionary Road. However, it is 100% true that they are ALL worried that The Reader will pull focus from Rev Road. That has been the story for months now. It does not mean that Rudin or anyone else thinks that The Reader itself is a behemoth that will crush Rev Road’s chances. But it muddies the water… and not just the public view of it.
First, let’s just look at the calendar. Scott Rudin seems to have at least 2 “Oscar movies” every year. But he doesn’t let his BP candidates release on top of one another. Last year, it was No Country For Old Men in early November and There Will Be Blood at Christmas. Second tier chasers The Darjeeling Limited and Margot at the Wedding were, respectively, launched in September and dumped (never more than 80 screens) in November. The year before, it was The Queen vs Notes on a Scandal… September and December.
No one wants to fight themselves head on, at the box office or in awards season. Had the plan been to release The Reader in December, Rudin would have surely pushed to have Sam Mendes – who is only still adjusting Rev Road because he started shooting This Must Be The Place in April, a date by which he had expected to be finished on Rev Road – to have Rev Road ready for an October release. It’s not exactly brain surgery. The only self-competing experience that comes close to this for Rudin was The Royal Tenenbaums and Iris, opening on the same day in 2001… but Royal went wider quickly and Iris was really a qualifiing run, not cracking 40 screens until March of 2002.
The other Rev Road/Reader release problem is that it represents, from the day Rudin & Weinstein teamed, a combination of behind the scenes marketing and publicity talent that is conflicted, both in terms of the immediate issue of release, as well as the long relationships in town. Rudin’s point people are at 42 West, a company driven greatly by people who used to work for Harvey… and who carry the scars of that history. They did a lot of great things together. But the end was bitter. Moreover, Harvey’s ongoing team is spread around town, as he didn’t have a lot to push this season, so they have other obligations, some exclusively. On top of that is the Kate Winslet problem.
Doubt really is on a different track altogether. Miramax’s relationship and enormous awards success working with 42 West is every bit as well established as the relationship with Rudin, who also produced this movie. There is a built-in conflict there. But unlike the Paramount Vantage situation, there is a lot less cross-over between the film’s teams.
3) ”Instead, this conflict has everything to do with Weinstein and little to do with Rudin.”
Yes. Wrote that a week ago. Not news.
But that doesn’t mean that Rudin & Co are now trying to bury Harvey in response to the choice to do exactly what Rudin did not want him to do.
And if you believe that it was about Daldry’s post schedule, I have some shares in Lehman Bros to sell you.
4) “Insiders insist to me that Harvey’s desperation to release The Reader this year is because of The Weinstein Co’s money woes. One of my sources heard Harvey say that if he can’t afford to hold The Reader and, if he can’t get it out this Christmas, then he’ll dump it in February.”
Thanks for reading The Hot Blog, Nikki.
5) ”Yet puzzled insiders tell me three other film companies want to buy the pic and release it properly in 2009.”
Three other companies want to buy the nearly-complete picture without having seen it?
More like Scott Rudin has gotten Dan Battsek and/or Peter Rice and/or Chris McGurk to say that they are interested in floating the budget and interest costs to have what seems to be an interesting film for next year’s Oscar race. Rice, in particular, is about to make a killing on WB dumping Slumdog Millionaire into his lap at a deep discount after he passed on making the film because he felt the budget was too high. Cleaning up messes can be a winning position for studios who have the deep pockets to do it. But it’s not like there’s a bidding war out there for The Reader.
And when has Harvey Weinstein ever sold a movie that he liked, aside from the movies that Disney wouldn’t releasse?
I mean, this is a lame one to throw out there.
6) “Insiders have told me that Rudin and Daldry and Winslet were all threatening The Weinstein Co not to support the film. That would have been a TKO for Harvey’s Academy Award dreams.”
Thanks again for reading, Nikki.
The bottom line here is that Harvey Weinstein got done what he needed to get done. He couldn’t afford to take the loss by dumping the movie – which February would have been – and he can’t afford to pay interest for another year. So he’s throwing a quarter of his additional costs of waiting onto the fire to get the post finished without a war.
He still won’t have Winslet working for his movie. He is still fighting off not only Rev Road, but Ed Zwick’s Defiance as well (another Par Vantage release).
Scott Rudin, a very sharp cookie, is using Nikki to bludgeon Harvey… he’s hoping, to movie death. Unfortunately, Nikki doesn’t know the beat well enough to know when she’s overshooting reality.
And truth told, not that many others do either. But I can tell you… everyone who knows the players and the situation do know. And starting with the crazy “Rudin Wins” headline yesterday, they knew someone had fallen down the rabbit hole.
Go ask Nikki… when she was just small.
My first reaction to Steven Soderbergh’s Che’ was absolute shock at the idiocy and arrogance of it all… that is to say, the idiocy and the arrogance of the response from Cannes.
This is one reason why I hate seeing a movie “after the fact.” It is a real challenge to all critics – and any one of them that claims it is not is more self-delusional than most and should probably be more distrusted – to not react to the criticism of others, whether to embrace it or to reject it, when one sees a film that gets the kind on biting response that Che’ got in Cannes.
For me, it was Friday morning, 9am, anticipating 4 hours and 22 minutes of film, without credits. Exhausted, but as part of an excited full house at the Ryerson screening room. No food allowed… no coffee… oy.
But the proof is in the work. I think that prior reactions were driven by traditions, expectations, and the combination of an indulgent effort by Soderbergh with The Good German, preceded by the more interesting, but also relentlessly arthouse Bubble and followed by the overtly commercial effort of Ocean’s 13. And before that… Ocean’s 12 and Solaris. Before that? Full Frontal and Ocean’s 11. In other words, it’s been eight years since Traffic blew (many) critics away and then gathered up some of the stragglers who finally caught up with the brilliance in the film after it started having awards thrown at it. (Recall the screaming that Traffic was impossibly overlong at 2:27?)
Really, critics haven’t had the great romance with Soderbergh since The Limey.
But critics, as we so often prove, are often not arbiters of art, but members of a certain kind of frat where art is defined by often great, but somewhat audience-unfriendly films like Momma’s Man or Man On Wire. Everything else, like an unattractive woman in a frat house, is just not good enough. (Except, of course, until the night gets late and the beer goggles go on, the drunk of these critics often created by a story or two about critics being out of touch.)
Soderbergh, for me, is one of the key modern figures of cheap critical derision. He isn’t Kubrick, but he does suffer similar slings and arrows. The Coen Bros. get the same treatment in fits and starts. He has always done anti-commercial work in between more commercial efforts. His response to breaking through commercially with Sex, Likes & Videotape was Kafka for God’s f-ing sakes. He then made King of The Hill, which current day Fox Searchlight or Focus would have ridden to a slew of Oscar nominations and more than $40 million at the box office. The often sparkling Gramercy never put it on more than 5 screens at any time. Then it was The Underneath, a movie that clearly presages much of what SS does in The Limey, the Spaulding Gray doc/performance art piece, Gray’s Anatomy, and the wacky, crazy, personal Schizopolis. But most civilians just leap from Sex, Lies to Out of Sight. Critics (mostly) remember the other films… but seem to forget that this is how one of the world’s finest working filmmakers works.
But I guess I digress…
And perhaps it is because the glory of Che’ has a lot to do with what it is, more than anything that is easily encapsulated in a review written after only one viewing. Yes, the two films, two sides of one narrative coin that is bigger than the life and times of the central character, could have been shortened into a speedy 2.5 hours. But yes, the story could well have gone on for 6 hours. It could well have been three movies of 2 hours and 11 minutes each, the third establishing a middle of Guevara’s work, that was neither as overt a success (in that time) as Cuba or the clear failure of Bolivia. Each of these movies could have been longer.
But Che’ is, it seems to me, exactly what Steven Soderbergh wanted it to be.
I almost hate to explain it at all, as the journey of a film like this is a great part of the experience. As usual, I avoid as much detail as possible before seeing and experiencing any movie.
But here is the short version. Part 1, aka The Argentine, is about Ernesto Guevara – still known primarily as a doctor from Argentina – establishing his relationship with Castro and those who will come to take over Cuba. And then… they take over Cuba.
In the process, Soderbergh and co-screenwriter Peter Buchman (who does exist… not a Soderbergh pseudonym like The Great Peter Andrews) don’t seek to do a complete biography of the man. Instead, they write a biopic that has the perspective, subtly, of the subject of the biography. How much time does his family get? About as much as Guevara seems to give it in his mind.
And Soderbergh/Andrews use the camera to distinguish the inner life and the outer life of the man, though the movie is mostly about the inner life.
The movie is, in many ways, a more-intimate-than-possible documentary (thus, a fictionalized narrative). Instead of telling us things in dialogue or setting up dramatic moments that makes ideas obvious, Soderbergh & Co let Guevara and The Castros and the rest show themselves in the way people really show themselves… in small, human, real moments. They also force the audience to keep its awareness of the future events in check… first, what happened… but the future we all know stares us in the face. This is no revisionist history. There really is no effort to define the politics around these men, but simply to allow them to express what they felt they were doing or what they told others they felt they were doing.
There is great effort to work, in both films, with the true experience of the men and women fighting the fight. This is one of the real feats of Soderbergh’s work here. Unlike Hurt Locker, which does a great job of sharply defining the mechanics of the work of bomb defusing teams (which happen to be in Iraq), this detail is about the feel of the human effort, both on the side of the fighters we are watching and the rural people that they are navigating while also fighting national military forces.
The second half of Che’, aka Guerilla, which matches the first film’s 2:11 running time according to the TIFF presenter (4 minutes longer than Variety’s reported running time from Cannes), is about Guevara’s last stand in Bolivia. And the story could and on its own… but that would be to miss the entire point of the effort.
Written by Soderbergh, Buchman, and Benjamin A. van der Veen, the story follows the man now known by everyone as “Che’,” but who constantly seeks to hide his presence, into a Bolivian rebellion. Here, he has no strong partner, as he had in Fidel Castro in Cuba. But Castro turned out to be more interested in the pleasures of governing and being a legend than in the ideals that inspired he and Guevara in the first place. But without an equal, a balance, who keeps his feet on the ground, can Che’ succeed in his aspirations? Will his celebrity be overwhelm the value of his leadership in this situation? Will he understand the big picture strategy necessary to deal with a very different government and their reactions to his efforts?
It is ironic that The Wrestler got so much love at Toronto, given that Guerilla is so similar as a storyline, albeit set in quite different universes. The Wrestler tells the story of a man struggling to survive his past while wanting nothing so much as to wallow in it. Of course, in The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke’s character is writ small… tiny, really. Ernesto Guevara is as quiet as Rourke’s wrestler, but while Rourke’s character struggles with his tiny fame, Guevara holds many lives in his hand as a result of his… and still, struggles.
For people looking for a snap and slap testament to Che’s greatness or his hypocrisy or anything definitive, this will never quite work. It just isn’t a straight biopic. It has more in common with Malick’s The Thin Red Line and the second half of Kubick’s Full Metal Jacket than any more traditional war epics… there is a bit of Patton, in conceit though not remotely in character, as well. Soderbergh and his collaborators have taken the story of Che’ Guevara to define their ideas much the way Robert Bolt did for Lean, though this film creates intimacy like Bolt created epics (though Lean hired actors who brilliantly undercut the stuffiness of Bolt to make most of their films together a perfect balance). Che’ is Brando to most biopics’ Heston.
The notion that this film is in any way a “patchwork” or “unfinished” is, simply, not to understand the work. That doesn’t mean that I think anyone has to like it in order to be smart. But professionals should be, at least, able to step away from the work enough to comprehend the effort.
The sad truth is, if Che’ had a French or Italian name after “directed by,” it would be hailed as one of the great achievements of the last decade. Not only would the critic snobbery be engaged, but critics who will not do the heavy lifting for Soderbergh would dig into the subtexts of the film with both hands… if only the film had little chance of becoming well known to US moviegoers who might challenge any interpretation.
In the end, I quite liked Che’ and expect I will like it more and more with additional viewings. It is a challenge to today’s quick cutting and narrow idea movies. It is a challenge to anyone who is not prepared to sit down and let a movie wash over them for four hours and twenty-two minutes, without the intermission or the credits. And if that challenge is not for you, please don’t take offense. The choice of the art you want to embrace is, as it must be, with the individual.
My expectation is that Che’ will do a few million dollars in a very limited release… a bit of a small phenomenon as true movie lovers take up Soderbergh’s challenge. Some will love it. Others will be non-plussed, which given the length, will read as negative. I guess some, particularly those who want it to be something else, will hate it. But it is art, in the very best way. And Soderbergh’s achievement as an artist is undeniable.
Before I go, a word about the acting… since I haven’t felt compelled to offer any yet. It is perfect, from start to end. What that doesn’t mean is that it is a big movie shoot ‘em up of scenery chewing. There is almost none in the film. There are some familiar faces. (One face, Fidel Castro’s, has only become familiar to many people with the new season of Weeds on Showtime.)
Benicio del Toro is perfect and quiet and strong. There is never any question of what is happening in his mind, even when he is nearly silent. He is a believer, first and last. He never sees himself as a martyr. He is just doing what he must. He moves forward. The movie doesn’t linger – or spend much time at all – on “details,” like his family, his sex life, and his other banalities.
But that’s not what this movie is.
On the day known in the industry as the unofficial end of the Toronto International Film Festival, the festival felt like one of the great ones, if only for the day.
The best Iraq movie so far (closely nipping Nick Broomfield’s Battle For Haditha) and the best new American film at TIFF that I have seen this year is Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker, which really isn’t so much an Iraq War film as it is a war film that happens to be in Iraq. Mark Boal’s screenplay does what so many screenplays dealing with big subjects do not… it narrows the field down to a subject that can be contained by 2 hours, offering full, rich, human emotion on the playing field, which in this case is the Iraq War.
In many ways, Hurt Locker is like a third half of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Bigelow, who does her best career work here, isn’t quite the magician that Kubrick was – and who is? – but she brings her own style to the proceedings and does not, almost surprisingly, ever cross over into excess style. (There is, actually, one exception… in an early explosion, there were, for my tastes, one too many cool slo-mo shots… especially after we learn where the movie is going. I think the operatic style of the images there undermines the lack of same style later in the film. But this is a nitpick.) Along with Boal’s script, Bigelow chooses make the characters say little and to let their choices define them when the hard moments come.
The film uses three acting-celebrity cameos in an interesting way, I think trying to unbalance the audience a bit so we don’t know what to expect. I certainly don’t want to give it away, though I can guess now that a certain movie by a certain director will be referenced in over 75% of reviews when the movie is ultimately released.
The central trio of the film is made up of Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty. Bigelow and Boal conspire to make sure that we never know what might happen to any one of the three, from the first time they are in a scene together to the last. The wild man in the trio is Jeremy Renner, who plays his role perfectly. He has so internalized his work as a bomb tech that he has no fear when faced with a situation, no matter how insane being fearless might be. But his sense of honor is equally unshakeable and leads him down some dark alleys.
The only downside to Renner being so real in the role is that not being a movie-star charismatic makes you wonder what the commercial potential is for the film. He’s handsome, but it’s a doughy-faced kind of handsome. He seems fit, but not strikingly tall or cut or lithe. He is what you might expect the real guys who do these jobs to look like. And it would be dead wrong to criticize the movie for not taking the easy way out. But you kinda want everyone to see this one and now and again, the craving for a little stunt casting creeps up on you.
Anthony Mackie, who killed in Half Nelson, is uptight here, an intellectual stuck in a harsh, ugly war zone. He gets is right, much of his dialogue shouted through helmet-to-helmet mics, like poetry or a rock song or Shakespeare, it demands a certain precision and he gets it – and the emotions behind it – just right. My guess is that he is the most likely stand-in for the film’s audience.
Brian Geraghty is the innocent. And he another character who could so easily have gone someplace irritatingly obvious, but does not.
In many ways, the film is of the Michael Mann oeuvre, with half a dozen or so major set pieces that are complex, dramatically compelling, and make you feel like you are experiencing the moment first hand. The drama between the set pieces is not as stylized as Mann’s, but in this case, that raw energy feels dead right.
Hurt Locker is looking for distribution here and while it seems riskier – given the industry’s heightened fear of Iraq-related movies – that The Wrestler at $4 million, the opportunity to buy a movie that you know carries some real impact is undeniable. I also have a strong feeling that the film will actually get better on multiple viewings.
Meanwhile… the rich just get richer.
Fox Searchlight has had a very quiet 2008, but they started to prep to bring just The Secret Lives of Bees here… added Slumdog Millionaire a few weeks ago… and now leave with a third fall film in The Wrestler. All of a sudden, they have a very muscular and busy fall/holiday season to come.
But back to Slumdog Millionaire.
Dumping this film… or simply acknowledging that they don’t know how to market it… or don’t get it… will stand for a long time as one of the great embarrassments of Warner Bros’ history.
Just a great movie movie.
The story is basic… classic. Our central character has won big on India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, in spite of not appearing to have the education to pull it off. He is interrogated as to how he cheated, because they are convinced that he did. And as he explains how he answered each of the questions, his story unfolds… starting with childhood.
And what a tale of survival it is. I don’t want to give away details, but a significant portion of the film is about kids, followed by their teen selves, and then as young adults. The stories of the luck and trouble and joy and horror they go through are so theatrical, yet never veer into storybook fantasy.
It’s an amazing journey into adulthood, almost Wizard of Oz, but you know how they say, truth is odder than fiction. This fiction feels like the oddest of truths. And that is a great tribute to Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle, the writer and director.
Boyle is at his absolute best here. You can go back to Trainspotting and Shallow Grave to see the origins of the skills he brings to bare here, but unlike those, this never feels like a young director trying to show off. There is a rugged self-assurance in creating some amazing images, pushing the editing (via editor Chris Dickens), and mostly, telling the tale in a remarkably efficient and entertaining way.
The casting – you’ll recognize no one but the great Irfan Khan – is spectacular. All three age groups are dead on and completely compelling. The boys fit the evolving story of their personalities. And we hope that Freida Pinto can get over her debilitating ugliness some day.
But mostly, it is a romp through some of the most disturbing terrain on the planet. It is, in many ways, an Indian version of City of God with a lot of Dickens and Dumas to boot. It’s funny. It’s scary. It’s romantic. It’s horrible. It’s violent. And did I mention… it’s very funny.
If this weren’t a film set in India, it would be explosively commercial. But instead, it should just be a well-sold, modest hit for Searchlight, standing up honorably for telling a story that is richer than it absolutely has to be. We are all richer for it.
It’s interesting that it is getting Oscar buzz in Toronto. Perhaps people are deluding themselves because the fest has been so sparse. But perhaps not. I do think for this film to get there, a domestic gross of over $50 million is absolutely mandatory… and I don’t know that $50m is possible. But it should be. So maybe living in hope isn’t so bad. Just as Slumdog Millionaire.
Rachel Getting Married is the best Altman movie in 15 years.
Of course, this film is not by Robert Altman, but by Jonathan Demme, one of America’s great filmmakers, of a generation that came up behind the Altmans and others of the early 70s, who made his first high profile film, Melvin and Howard, one decade after Altman’s M*A*S*H*. Twenty-eight years later, Demme pays tribute to Altman with the style of real-life over-talking, silence, and open ends that he has never really emulated before combined with his personal aesthetic of music, wild but loving characters, and unexpected performances that change careers.
The story is simple… kinda. The title character, Rachel, is getting married. But the center of the movie is her sister, Kym, who is coming out of rehab (not crisis, rehab!) to be a part of the celebration. Over the course of one weekend, we will meet the family, discover secrets, and see the foibles of ourselves and people we know, even if the storyline doesn’t fit like a glove. It is part of Demme’s genius that he makes his people – all of his people – relentlessly real and empathetic.
There is a lot of The Celebration, probably the best of all the Dogma films, in Rachel. But Demme pulls back the layer one level deeper, choosing not to throw quite as severe a curve into the story. Rachel never reaches that level of a family deteriorating under the weight of a long held lie. This family’s pain is no secret. It is much more like most families that suffer tragedy along the path of life… everyone knows… everyone hopes it won’t surface… everyone gets caught up in the petty (and not so petty) roles that they play in either ripping off scabs or trying to heal them… family.
So much of what is great in all of Demme’s work is the casting (though I don’t remember a Demme film without Chuck Napier before). Here, it is Anne Hathaway’s show and she doesn’t miss a note. But in tribute to that success, she might have a hard time with Oscar because she is too real… she doesn’t show off for the camera. And when you hear criticism of this film, that will be the center of the complaint. Not the performance, but the lack of “gotcha” movie moments. Every story is different, but this is one of those human stories that feels more real than written (thanks to Jenny Lumet, the screenwriter, and yes, Sidney Lumet’s kid.)
Once you get past Hathaway, you have the emergence of an actress who may be one of our next big stars and the reappearance of an actress who was one of our biggest stars… and then walked away. But wait until you get a load of Debra Winger. She just eats the screen every second the camera lands on her. She’s not hamming it up… she is just plain magnetic. There is, as you might remember, so much going on behind her eyes that as an audience member, you just have to keep an eye on her to see what’s going on. And she too… she has one “big scene,” but it isn’t as big, in the script, as you might expect. You don’t get the 5 minute speech where she tears down the house. What you get is what the character demanded… and that includes a boatload of subtext. She may not end up winning an Oscar for this performance, but you get the feeling that some director with a great script for an adult woman will turn up at her door and talk her into doing the work and winning one. All these years since she has been a fixture in movies and she still has that unmistakable star power.
And Rosemary DeWitt, best known for her work on Mad Men, shows up big here as the opposite number to Hathaway’s reservoir of pain and fear. She’s the one who holds the family together, even when it’s her day. And she hits just the right notes of selflessness and selfishness…. again, from life.
Of course, Demme has his regular parade of irregulars (the regular ones and others). One of the most fascinating casting choices is Sidney, Tunde Adebimpe (who you might remember from Jump Tomorrow). The role of the husband-to-be could be cast in all kinds of ways, but Adebimpe plays it close to the vest, with the clear presence of big ego potential, but very low key… a man who draws people into his world, but also puts out for those close to him when the chips are down. (Many would say the same of Demme.)
Anna Deavere Smith as The Second Wife… Bill Irwin as a father twisted in emotional knots that he fights not to allow to unravel… a new actress named Anisa George as the bitchy best friend… Carol Jean Lewis leading the way as the leading face of Sidney’s impeccably cast family… and comedy-guy Mather Zickel, turning in a smooth performance as The Best Man.
And then there is the music. There is a score, but the film is floating throughout on a cloud of “live” music around the house… serious music, light music, ethnic music, noodling, performance… all kinds of music… infectious music… life in a iPod of the coolest stuff you’ll hear.
By the end of the film, your expectations have been overwhelmed by the world that Demme and all of his collaborators (including Declan Quinn as DP and Ang Lee’s regular cutter, Tim Squyres on the Avid) have created. At the same time, what many people expect to get from a movie these days is not offered. Sorry. But any detractor – and there will surely be some – should take a breath and think about what they were offered here by Lumet, Demme, et al. When is the last time we saw this kind of intimacy in a movie released by a major or a division of a major? It’s what Altman was always reaching for, for better and sometimes worse. It is what Soderbergh beings to his more earnest efforts. It’s what we yearn for at film after film at these festivals… an intimate human truth.
A wedding is where the family is forced/chooses to come together, as adults, with histories, in an attempt to share a loving event. It is a classic dramatic construct. Rachel Getting Married is a classic deconstruction. It is a minor masterpiece. So far, it is the best American movie of the year. And even in this weak movie year, that is saying something.