Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Happened to "Rachel Getting Married?"

I know the 2008 Oscar season is long behind us. But the lack of awards attention for Rachel Getting Married outside of the Indie Spirits still baffles me. I have the DVD, which I've watched several times. The movie rewards repeat viewings and I'm now convinced more than ever that it will become one of my favorite films of this decade. But I have tried to analyze in my head exactly what went wrong here. It had an Academy-Award winning director at the helm (Jonathan Demme), a bonafide star headlining the cast (Anne Hathaway) and it was written by the daughter of a Hollywood legend (Jenny Lumet, daughter of Sidney Lumet). But the more one watches the film, and observes trends, it becomes slightly less confusing, if still baffling in the end.

1. Release date.
Rachel Getting Married got an October release date. Most of the time, films are released too late (Che, Revolutionary Road, and Children of Men being a few recent examples), but the October release date probably led to it being lost in the shuffle.

2. Law of averages.
2007 boasted one of the best (if not the best) Oscar best picture shortlists of the decade. It's a little unrealistic to expect two great years in a row. Once I saw how good 2007's shortlist was, I actually said to myself "Ooh...but this means 2008's shortlist is going to suck," which it more or less did, with a few exceptions. The best film of the year was left off the list. It happens sometimes.

3. Debra Winger.
Maybe people do still hate her...

4. It's not a tidy film.
There's no caption at the end that reads "Kim goes back to rehab was written." The movie is wrenching, it's uncomfortable and often times, it's downright grating. Oscar is usually less forgiving of films such as these when they are...

5. Female-centered.
Oscar likes its complex men, but it doesn't like its complex women for the most part. So many layered and complicated women. And written by a woman. Juno was a bit easier to digest.

6. The dishwashing scene.
While I didn't hate it, I could definitely see how it would lose some people, and turn them against the movie if they were riding the fence. One of the people I saw it with said "All of that just so the father could find the plate? It seems a little bit roundabout." And maybe they were right.

7. I've Loved You So Long
Sony Pictures Classics put all of their steam behind this train early on in the year, especially when there was talk of Kristin Scott Thomas possibly WINNING best actress (she wasn't even nominated.) It was clear that this was the pony they were betting on. By the time Anne Hathaway emerged as the one more probable to get a best actress nomination, it was kind of too late to mount a serious, tasteful campaign for the entire film. Speaking of which...

8. The National Board of Review
Although they did name Anne Hathaway as their best actress, the absence of the film from their top ten list (especially since non-starters like Changeling, Gran Torino and Defiance made the list) suggested that the film was an awards vehicle for Hathaway and nothing more. Since NBR is first out of the gate and rarely makes inspired choices, they're fun to blame.

9. Lack of starpower.
Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger are the two biggest names in the film. Winger, while an accomplished actress took long absences from the screen and is not exactly what you'd call a "movie star." Hathaway, while definitely famous, is not an actress who has typically been associated with good acting in serious drama. For those who were paying attention, the greatness she accomplished here was hinted at in the past. For others, it wasn't so obvious and her name alone may have steered a few moviegoers and Academy voters alike. You wouldn't believe the number of people I've spoken to who won't see the movie because they "don't like Anne Hathaway."

10. The multiculturalism.
A friend of mine said she was put off by the "kumbaya" aspect of the film, which she (as a black woman) read as inauthentic. This has been discussed ad nauseum, but some people feel it's a valid concern. I disagree.

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