Thursday, November 13, 2008

Family And Friends

Rachel Getting Married. D: Jonathan Demme. Anne Hathaway, Rosemary DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin, Debra Winger. 

Anne Hathaway excels in Jonathan Demme's return to form about a drug addict's weekend home from rehab to participate in her successful sister's wedding. As Kym, a wan, jumpy Hathaway -- hair cropped, eyes peering out sharply from a circle of black makeup -- displays an unexpected range in her portrayal of the addict who compulsively calls attention to herself and threatens a fragile network of family relationships. The movie is all about how people respond when there are no easy answers -- when there are no answers at all.

Rachel's wedding, a joining of two musical families, is more than a backdrop; it's a metaphor for the strength of family bonds that hold firm despite the stresses of addiction, divorce, sibling jealousy, and death. The wedding itself is propelled by the mysterious powers of musical and cultural diversity, shown here as a benign force serving as a bulwark against the destructiveness of Kym's addictive behavior.

Demme's handheld camera makes us very nearly members of the wedding. We're at dinner for Hathaway's excruciating wedding toast (so well played and directed that you may want to turn away), participating in her AA meeting where she reveals the secret at the heart of the film, witnessing Kym's confrontation with her aloof mother (Winger, elegantly beautiful at age 53), and beside her sister Rachel (DeWitt) as Rachel tenderly bathes a shattered Kym just before the wedding. 

Demme allows the film's quiet power to accumulate slowly, trusting the actors (each of whom is excellent, Irwin as the father torn between Rachel and Kym) and the musicians who provide a live soundtrack to the movie's drama. It's Eugene O'Neill territory, except that in this case the family holds itself together in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- it's dysfunction. Quite an achievement, and better than any movie I've seen this year or last. Highly recommended...

Simply Grand, Irma Thomas. Simply grand it is, as the Soul Queen of New Orleans teams with a host of pianists on this fine outing that shifts comfortably between gospel, blues, R&B, and jazz. Thomas revs up her voice and simplifies the arrangements to great effect. Five of the numbers feature her accompanied only by a pianist, putting the emphasis on a vocal instrument that has been compared with Aretha Franklin's. (Not by me, but I read it somewhere!)

Any project relying on a shifting set of guest musicians and styles risks a degree of disjointedness, but Thomas' vocals keeps everything unified. From the opening gospel reading of John Fogerty's "River Is Rising" to the unadorned grandeur of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" at the close of the album, she moves effortlessly across a stylistic spectrum aided by the mostly New Orleanian pianists Henry Butler, Dr. John, Jon Cleary, Tom McDermott, David Torkanowsky, David Egan, Norah Jones, Ellis Marsalis, John Medeski, Davell Crawford, Marcia Ball, and Newman...

R. I. P., Mitch Mitchell...

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