Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some of her best friends are black

In "Rachel Getting Married," Anne Hathaway plays the Gwyneth Paltrow character from "The Royal Tenenbaums." Sulky, chain-smoking, with fabulous haircut and just a touch too much eyeliner, Hathaway's Kym is a brunette Margot. Which makes sense, because the two movies take place in the same over-aestheticized, surface-only multicultural world.

"Rachel" also has an element of a more recent Wes Anderson film, "The Darjeeling Limited." Both movies are of what could be called the Dave Matthews Band school of interracial harmony. We can all just get along, so long as the camera focuses on the non-threatening white person, the one whose story gets to be told. Recovering drug addict and reviver of heroin chic Kym sits at the movie's center, with her sensible sister Rachel and their parents the supporting actors. Rachel's best friend Emma, a stock preppy and unsympathetic blonde, jarringly out-of-place in what appears to be for the most part a family of artistic types, is icy and predictable but at least gets to speak.

Though her stepmother, Rachel's husband, and countless bit parts are played by black actors, it's clear that none of these characters matter in the least to the film's plot. They are presented as purely decorative, often musical, adding, quite literally, color to the proceedings. You end up hearing about as much out of the black characters as you do from the exquisite (and also, alas, black) family poodle. If the point of the film's treatment of race were that it simply didn't matter in the context of the story, as A.O. Scott suggests, then it's unlikely the silent characters would have also turned out to be the ones with dark skin. How reviewers could interpret this film as progressive in how it deals with race is fully beyond me.

A sort of pan-exoticizing, Orientalist stance sits either in contrast to--or in surprising harmony with--Kym's bourgeois white girl blues. From the little we know of Kym's family, they grew up in a big suburban house, had youthful escapades on 96th Street in Manhattan, and have enough money to send their daughter to one stint in a fancy rehab clinic after the next. That Rachel is getting her doctorate gives us a sense of where Kym would be, in socioeconomic terms, had she not gotten involved in hard drugs.

If Kym's story hasn't been told, a million like it have. I wanted to know who Sydney, Rachel's husband, was, and what (other than his movie-star good looks) brought him into the film. The extended family was so clearly more interesting than the poor-little-rich-girl cliché on whose pug nose and pale skin the camera remained so stubbornly focused. I wanted to know what was going on with any of the characters who the movie permitted only to dance.

The couple whose wedding we attend is meant to usher in a moment of hope; allusions to Obama abound, from the bride and groom's more than passing resemblance to the Democratic nominee's parents to the couple's choice to move to Hawaii following the ceremony. One can only wish that once in Hawaii, perhaps a child will be born to this couple who will lead the country into better times.

1 comment:

Clementine Gallot said...

Right. This movie is a failure on so many levels.
let's watch Margot at the wedding, instead?