New reviews – ‘Rachel Getting Married’ and ‘The Express’

Rachel Getting Married (dir: Jonathan Demme)

A high-strung young woman with serious relationship issues arrives for her sister’s wedding and turns attention onto herself. It’s the classic dysfunctional family gathering, shot in the InDigEnt model, with handheld digital camera, practical lighting, lots of group scenes and the camera bobbing through what looks to be like controlled chaos of at least partially improvised scenes. This season’s answer to Margot at the Wedding? Not in hands of Jonathan Demme. The script by Jenny Lumet hits the expected conflicts and collisions, right about where you expect them to show up, but the way Demme lets the digital camera roam through long takes and big ensemble scenes gives it an authenticity.

Anne Hathaway, who is really quite good at being utterly disagreeable, stars as self-involved pity addict Kym, on leave from her most recent rehab stint for the family chaos of the preparations. Still not recovered from being the center of attention, Kym constantly and blatantly grabs for the spotlight – you can almost hear the grinding of teeth when she turns a toast into a comic monologue of her twelve-step disasters – and a lot of unresolved issues are churned up, which isn’t quite the wedding gift that sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) was hoping for.

Anne Hathaway as Kym: addicted to self-pity
Anne Hathaway as Kym: addicted to self-pity

Hathaway, who has played the Cinderella part to death, stretches herself admirable and convincingly to play a spoiled, self-centered, broken young woman. She’s not afraid to be utterly disagreeable and never begs for sympathy or plays it for laughs. It’s more attitude than anger, but it’s still fearless for a performer whose career has been built on charming audiences with sweetness and spunk.

Less showy but even more layered is Rosemarie DeWitt’s portrayal of Rachel, a pent up knot of frustration and fury and jealousy at how Kym always sucks the attention from the crowd and from her family like an emotional vampire. Kym needs the assurance that she’s noticed, even if it means grandstanding at the rehearsal diner and turning the toasts to the bride and groom into a self-serving paean to her own dysfunction.

It’s the classic dysfunctional family gathering setup, with a script by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney Lumet) that hits the expected conflicts and collisions, right about where you expect them to show up. And it’s shot with a handheld digital camera bobbing through the controlled chaos of what appears to be at least partially improvised scenes.

… Demme plays with the style like a new toy, but the sensibility recalls his early ensemble films. He brings an inclusiveness and a sense of community to the film and gives characters we may only meet once a lived-in quality. An extended wedding party dinner, full of speeches and elaborate toasts, could have felt unending; Demme makes it feel like family in the best ways, with a generosity of spirit flowing from friends and relatives.

Demme makes music a defining part of the community with a soundtrack that arises from the guests (among them Robyn Hitchcock) and radiates out to create an atmosphere of joy and celebration, always on the verge of being yanked away by Kym’s next outburst.

Read the complete review on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here.

The Express (dir: Gary Fleder)

Despite a title that sounds more like a generic action film, The Express is about The Elmira Express, the nickname of college football legend Ernie Davis. At least I assume he’s a legend, not being a college football authority. It’s your basic rousing sports story about the underdog who fights against the odds and triumphs. To cite those triumphs would be to give away all the climactic moments of the film, and there are a lot. Real lives don’t conveniently fall into an easy three-act structure, but even so, the last third of the film seems to be one inevitably rousing climax after another.

The quietly charismatic Rob Brown plays Davis as a young man whose reluctance to get involved in civil rights is overcome by his innate dignity and decency. Dennis Quaid (who gets top billing in a secondary role) is the more dynamic character as Ben Schwartzwalder, the tough-love coach fighting his own prejudice when he recruits the high school star to replace former running back and future NFL star Jim Brown.

The film works best when it’s not trying so hard. When Syracuse plays against West Virginia and Texas, the racial animosity and hatred is unnerving. “The Express” features its share of speeches, some of them quite articulate, but the face of racism is so ugly that Davis’ teammates don’t have to say a thing to show the pangs of self-disgust at this illustration of their own prejudice blown up to hideous proportions.

Read the complete review here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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