Jonathan Demme and Barry Levinson are two veteran directors whose new films are small and personal. But being personal often leads to neurosis, and neurosis can be a pain, especially for the viewer.
Demme has made two of my favorite films, Philadelphia and Melvin and Howard as well as the classic The Silence of the Lambs.
In his latest movie Rachel Getting Married, the lambs never stop bleating. And they're dysfunctional.
Rachel Getting Married has received a 94 percent favorable rating on Rottentomatoes. It was written by Jenny Lumet, the daughter of esteemed director Sidney Lumet. So I was ready to be enthralled. I am unenthralled.
Basically Rachel Getting Married is an exploration of a dysfunctional family. What a concept. I'm afraid the present state of reviewing is dysfunction. This time the dysfunction on the screen is led by Kymmie (Anne Hathaway), who leaves rehab to attend the frivolities surrounding her sister Rachel's (Rosemary DeWitt) wedding.
Rachel is still p.o.ed at her dissolute sister and resents the attention that has been heaped on Kym for years, but finally she is ready to enjoy her moment in the family sun. Not so fast, Sis. Your sister is still selfish, your father (Bill Irwin) is still weak, and your mother (Debra Winger) is still chilly.
Also, Mom and Dad have remarried -- Dad to an African-American (Anna Deavere Smith). It's all one big happy dysfunction. Rachel Getting Married is set amid a secular Jewish wedding with Arabic musicians. I admit I don't cry at weddings. I don't even go to weddings. But I did start to whimper when this ordeal wouldn't end.
My major problem is that the movie didn't have a single character I cared about. There wasn't any room. They cared totally about themselves. It's hard to relate to a group of bratty, verbose, self-involved nonentities.
When one of the main action scenes is a competition between the wetsmack father and the stolid would-be son-in-law (Tunde Adebimpe), I yearn for video-game cinema. Oh, for a little CGI.
Hathaway does as well as she is able with the role of the egotistical Kym. Bill Irwin, who plays Kym's and Rachel's father, played Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street. Mr. Noodle lives!
Bob Altman would have leavened Rachel Getting Married with irony and humor. Instead of wit, Demme and Lumet use earnestness and stridency.
Rachel Getting Married is like two hours of self-indulgent home movies, tracking every simper and whine of a family and guests. If Rachel and family decide to renew vows, I'm running the other way.
* * * * *
Director Barry Levinson's What Just Happened? is also about spoiled brats. But it's amusing.
The biggest spoiled brat is the most entertaining. Bruce Willis gives an outrageous, ferocious performance as himself. He refuses to cut off a full, scruffy beard for his next movie. He screams and rants, but his conflict with the studio (that refuses to make the movie if he doesn't shear it) ends with a clever resolution.
What Just Happened? is the story of Ben (Robert De Niro), a harried Hollywood producer who is trying to keep two movie projects afloat, while his personal life is foundering.
Besides the Willis project, Ben also is struggling to rescue another movie that stars Sean Penn, that was rejected at a preview screening because of its shocking ending.
De Niro gives his best performance in years as the put-upon producer, based on producer Art Linson's book and life. Catherine Keener is effective as a willful studio head, and John Turturro is fine as an agent whose stomach is failing him in more than one way.
What Just Happened? is shades of the late Robert Altman's The Player. It probably is too much of an inside joke to please many audiences. But if Rachel Getting Married is a cuckoo bird, What Just Happened? is a lark.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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