Rachel Getting Married/Slumdog Millionaire

Rachel Getting Married

2 stars

There’s a reason Anne Hathaway’s street cred boosting film Rachel Getting Married is only getting award notices for Hathaway’s acting. Because quite frankly, that’s all this film has going for it.

After being in and out of various prisons and rehab facilities for 10 years, Kym (Hatheway) is released into her families custody just days before her older sister Rachel’s (Rosmarie DeWitt) wedding. This leads to explosive confrontations between Kym, Rachel and their parents.

Certain aspects of this film is more than a passing resemblence to Sherry Baby, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s much better film of a rehabed druggie returning to the outside world. Nothing against Hathaway, but Gyllenhaal was better. The primary source of notice for Hathaway is that it was a left field performance for her, and did prove herself as more than a Disney alum trying to make it in the world.

Hathaway’s main source of acting support comes from Rosmarie DeWitt. As Rachel, she offers a great foil for Hathaway’s Kym. She exudes the exaspiration of a bride to be faced with daunting and unresolved family issues. Hathaway’s performance, and likewise the film as a whole, wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without DeWitt.

But stellar performances from the two leads isn’t enough to launch this past a 2 star rating. The rest of the characters and actors are treated as incidental, with no real major impact on the overall final story.

And while throughout most of the film, the Kym/Rachel dynamic is engaging, it occasionally slips into a “Whose issues are bigger?” pissing contest. And the remaining characters don’t help take it out of annoying status.

Then there’s the wedding. A first generation Jamaican-American marrying a WASP, and they have a Hindi/African/American influenced wedding. The rehearsal was an open-mic night? Were they trying to be hipsters? Too much just didn’t work, and ended up being annoying.

So in addition to annoying, whiney characters, you had an annoying plot point. And you walk away just embarassed for all involved.

Luckily DeWitt and Hathaway were able to come away unscathed. But I doubt I’ll ever look at Jonathan Demme the same way again.

Slumdog Millionaire

5 Stars

In a year filled with Oscar bait movies, leave it to Danny Boyle to throw a wrench into the works with the crime/romance/bio/drama Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a fascinating film that keeps you on your toes and never asks more of you as an audience than is absolutely necessary.

By sheer luck, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a young man who grew up in the slums of Bombay and now works as an go-fer in a tech support call center, has made it onto India’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” By even more luck, or possibly eerie coincidence, he’s got a shot at the 20 Million Rupee question. Jamal can’t believe it. Indian Regis (Anil Kapoor) can’t believe it. The Indian authorities can’t believe. Jamal is promptly arrested on suspicion of cheating. As he and the police cheif watch the tape of his performance, Jamal reveals the story of his life, with each chapter informing his correct answers to the questions presented to him.

If you were to ask me to pick one film to define director Danny Boyle’s career… I wouldn’t pick this one. But that’s only because he is a filmmaker who consistently mixes up the genres. Were I to name several of Spielberg’s films, you’d recognize them as Spielberg. Same with Scorsese, Fincher, Tarantino and Smith. They have their signature styles. While Boyle certainly a great director, and leaves his stamp on his films, he removes his personality from the film. If I didn’t know any better, I’d never be able to tell that Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later… and Slumdog Millionaire were all directed by the Boyle.

I commend Boyle for meshing the styles of Western filmmaking (he’s British) with Bollywood. Including the random, yet not out of place dance sequence during the end credits.

The performances from the actors are powerful, engaging and truthful. You aren’t hit over the head with the weight of what they’re doing. There’s a bizarre subtlty to it. Which is only bizarre when you realize that the 9 actors who play the leads (3 characters at different ages) have very little experience amongst the lot of them. It’s films like this that make me wish they had a best ensemble performance or best Casting Oscar. While an actor can have a great single performance in a great movie (or terrible movie, as is the case with the previous movie reviewed), sometimes the whole cast together elevates a movie, as is the case with this one.

What makes this film perform well is a great match of strong script and director. Boyle understood the story that needed to be told, and told it very well.

And I’ve got writers block.

So… in summation… Slumdog Millionaire= One of the best of the year.


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