Top Ten Movies of 2008 — Number One

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There are no shortage of dysfunctional families in the annals of film. Directors like Jonathan Demme–who brings an observant delicacy to his work, a commitment to emotional honesty and an abundant insight–are, on the other hand, a true rarity. Rachel Getting Married is a quiet marvel, a film with a simple, largely unremarkable premise that wrings trenchant truths out the familial skirmishes contained within. It begins with a troubled daughter returning home, liberated temporarily from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. Immediately, efficiently the film establishes that this sister, played with tremulous dignity and quickfire defensiveness by Anne Hathaway, has left a scorched path on her route to this point in life. She may be positioned as, as she herself puts it, “Shiva the destroyer,” but the film doesn’t spare the other family members in plumbing these lives. There’s an enduring curiosity about the psychology of everyone involved. By the end, all of these people are fully knowable to us. We understand their frailties and inner strengths. We know so much of who they are, and, more impressively, we feel some understanding of how they’ve reached that point, how every member of the fractured family unit has influenced and impacted the others. The extraordinary performances by Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin and Debra Winger beautifully enhance what is already on the page. Jenny Lumet’s debut screenplay is dense with telling information. Luckily, she partnered up with a director patient enough to examine it all. Demme’s film, while dynamic and artfully constructed, is willfully raw and deliberate. Sequences extend past expected endpoints, such as the series of toasts at the rehearsal dinner. As the scene plays on and on, it seems that Demme is determined to bring us each and every single stammered or sung litany of love and corresponding raising of glasses, even those few that take place after the scene’s dramatic pinnacle. It’s a daring, immersive approach that doesn’t just make the movie feels lived in, but occasionally gives the impression that we the viewers are living in it right along with the characters, watching quietly from the corner. Just another wedding guest. Adopting this slower pace may be counter-intuitive at a time when movies have fully migrated to the philosophy that louder is better, but I like to think that Jonathan Demme knew full well that Rachel Getting Married was worth the extra time.

(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)

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