Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Movies: Rachel Getting Married and The Duchess

Happy day, the apocalypse has been averted and we no longer are at risk of having a zombie puttering around the White House for the next four years, which means I can get back to worrying about more frivolously important things, like the Oscars. The Oscar race for Best Leading Actress is often the most interesting category each year. While Hollywood might not excel at putting multiple women on the screen together, it does seem to do a good job of pairing amazing women up with amazing material. And I suspect two recent releases are going to get that category off to a good start.

Anyone who’s been lucky enough to be around a recovering addict knows what special hell they can bring into your life. All of the self-absorption that comes from being an addict gets redirected into being a recovering addict. Instead of funneling all of their energy into chasing the next high, they’ll funnel all of their energy into self-righteously patting themselves on the back for not chasing the next high. I’ve run into some recovering alcoholics who felt the need to condescendingly explain why they’re morally superior to me since they no longer drink but I still do. The fact that I have a couple of drinks tops every few weeks tops with friends and never had an incident involving my car making furious love to an embankment of trees is apparently irrelevant. Look, I’m Irish-American with a once-large-now-mostly-deceased Catholic family, I know from alcoholism, okay? So it’s a testament to Anne Hathaway’s acting prowess that she could deliver such a nuanced turn in Rachel Getting Married and make it pleasant to be around a recovering addict for once.

In Rachel Getting Married, Kym (Anne Hathaway) leaves rehab for a weekend to come home for her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt)’s wedding. While home, she has a fling with a groomsman and fellow recovering addict (Mather Zickel), makes an awkward toast to Rachel and her fiancé (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe), crashes a car, and has moments both tender and volatile with her family. Rachel is a quiet film – sometimes literally, as music is used sparingly – that offers only a few emotional explosions, though when they come they’re quite compelling. The one thing Rachel Getting Married excels in is avoiding easy answers. When The Great Family Tragedy is revealed, we learn that it was not the event that drove Kym to drugs but rather that it was Kym’s drug use that caused the tragedy. In fact, no explanation is ever given for why Kym got to where she is, which is what keeps this from being a Lifetime movie. Sometimes smart people make stupid decisions for no good reason and hugging it out won’t magically fix everything. When Kym returns to rehab after her weekend at home, it’s not with any great revelation into the meaning of life, she’s just taking one of the many steps she’ll have to take towards recovery. Like a lot of indie movies, Rachel Getting Married does suffer from a few problems common to the genre. The steadicam shots are occasionally too precious in trying to mimic reality, and the wedding scene goes on far, far too long – there’s verisimilitude and then there’s flat out annoying. But with strong performances across the board and Anne Hathway as the spitfire center, this is one wedding you won’t want to miss.

Anne won’t be without competition when it comes to Oscar nominations, as Keira Knightly is deserving of consideration for her turn as Georgiana Cavendish (née Spencer), Duchess of Devonshire, in The Duchess. Just as Rachel Getting Married avoids devolving into standard Lifetime fare, The Duchess avoids turning into a typical bodice ripper. Mostly, anyway. The story follows Georgiana through her first decade of marriage to the Duke (Ralph Fiennes), when the primary concern (as it always seems to be with these royals) is producing a male heir. The Duke is abusive and neglectful, and Georgiana ends up conducting an affair with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) that results in a child. When she is forced to give the child away, it’s hard not to be moved by the situation and by Knightley’s stellar performance.

But all those relationships pale in comparison to Georgiana’s relationship with Elizabeth “Bess” Foster (Hayley Atwell). To say this is a complicated relationship is a slight understatement. Bess and Georgiana meet while on vacation in Bath and strike up so close a friendship that Georgiana invites Bess, recently separated from her husband who denies her visitation with their children, to move in with her and the Duke. She comes to regret this situation when Bess and the Duke begin a rather open affair. This comes as little surprise, of course, since the Duke is a philanderer and Bess is a woman desperate to curry favor with anyone who might be able to reunite her with her children. Georgiana’s dismay is, of course, of little surprise as well, but what keeps The Duchess interesting is the way that it keeps from devolving into a catfight for a cad’s affections, The Other Boleyn Girl revisited. Bess stays with Georgiana during her exile to secretly birth Charles Grey’s child and the two manage to rebuild their relationship despite the awkward Duke-sharing. It’s a complicated and compelling storyline. The only downside is that this storyline is not given as much time as the Georgiana/Duke and Georgiana/Charles Grey drama. In fact, that is one failing of The Duchess. There is a lot of meaty material – Georgiana’s political work, her incessant gambling, her complicated relationship with Bess – that is minimized in favor of the soapy aspects of the story. Still, those elements are present and do happily distinguish The Duchess from similar historical movies. Another quibble, though, when the political aspects are mentioned, they’re not given much context. I suppose I can’t fault the filmmakers for assuming everyone paid attention in history class, but I had to hit the books (or, well, let’s be honest – Wikipedia) when I got home. Still, I really enjoyed The Duchess, and I’m a tough sell as I avoid most costume dramas and historical movies like the plague. I recommend seeing it to give yourself a leg up in the office Oscar pool come 2009.

3 comments:

Sex Mahoney for President said...

Wikipedia is just as good as a book; the only drawback is that you don't get to draw stick figures en flagrante delicto in the margins.

Sex Mahoney for President

smd said...

You could probably set up your windows to cascade in such a way that porn is always visible in the equivalent of margins. That's almost the same, right?

I was recently doing some freelance fact checking and one of the editor's biggest rules was that Wikipedia didn't count as verifying a source. I was like, "What, you're gonna make me brave the wilds of the internet where things haven't been crowdsourced for my convenience?"

drug rehab said...

Just like your friends, you can also have the willingness to stop drinking alcohol. It's just a matter of self-discipline and responsibility to take care of one's health.