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is Oliver Stone’s answer to the George W. Bush administration — and actually the Bush dynasty as a whole, since Bush 1 makes a series of appearances for Freudian purposes. Coming in the final months of President Bush’s eight-year reign of terror — er, reign against terror — it’s one more chance to look over his life and remember how he (and we) got here in the first place. As Bush has said, only history will fully be able to judge him. Perhaps, for once, he’s right. Unfortunately, Stone’s film feels premature in trying to put Bush’s legacy into context.
Josh Brolin handily takes on the titular role of Dubya, at times becoming so convincing that shots of him in his underwear actually makes you cringe. Brolin portrays Bush as crass and poorly mannered; his Bush chews with his mouth open, moves in a self-absorbed haze, and maintains the same immaturity from college to the White House. While Brolin really captures the Bush swagger when giving speeches, the same attitude doesn’t translate to the scenes where there’s no real footage to mimic. Nevertheless, it’s a strong performance.
Stone is actually more reserved in his outright criticism of Bush than he could have been. While not complimentary, W. is mostly restrained when it comes to mockery. It’s the moments that Stone shows — getting arrested in college, quitting jobs, sitting on the toilet, choking on a pretzel — that provide a window. It’s the moments he doesn’t show — namely anything of great note — that focus the movie on the man and not the job.
With all the historic confrontations that have occurred since 2000, the biggest source of conflict in W. is Bush II’s relationship with his father. Tough policy decisions like invading Iraq take a backseat to the family strife Stone picks apart. However, jumping back and forth between his presidency and his youth breaks any momentum or continuity these relationships might bring to the film.
Even though the film plods along, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice is priceless. Newton captivates the minute she appears on screen, looking like a bobblehead in her attempt to agree with the President. While it’s a small part, it’s by far the best impersonation. Better than Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Cheney, who doesn’t capture the intensity and cold, calculating stare that we’ve come to expect from the current vice president.
In the end, there’s really nothing new in W. After living through reality for the last eight years, two hours in the theater just seems like, well, torture.
Have you ever gone to a wedding as someone’s date and felt like an outsider the entire time? You can’t participate in the stories from before the couple met — stories that would usually be deemed too embarrassing to tell but somehow seem okay in a wedding setting — and even though there’s an open bar, you really just want to leave? That’s Rachel Getting Married in a nutshell.
Kym (Anne Hathaway) is the real focus of Jenny Lumet’s story, despite the fact that it’s her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) who’s getting married. In no uncertain terms, Kym is a wreck: She’s just out of rehab, she’s completely obsessed with herself, and she needs attention like a drug she can’t kick. And she screws the best man, who’s also in her addiction group, which I’m pretty certain is frowned upon. Worst of all, she harbors guilt for a truly horrific family tragedy, which is mostly just referenced in passing because it’s too painful to discuss.
Jonathan Demme, having spent the better part of the last decade focusing on documentaries, ensures that Rachel Getting Married makes you squirm. It’s a glimpse into a family dealing with so many issues that you just want to look away. It’s uncomfortable and it’s real. Demme opts for an all-handheld camera approach, bringing a touch of his documentarian side to the project.
In a gritty and pathos-filled role, Hathaway proves that she’s got what it takes to be a serious actor. It’s a role almost written specifically for Oscar consideration. Additionally, she’s surrounded by real talent, including Bill Irwin as Kym’s father, who can portray a broken man like few others, and Debra Winger, who plays as distant a mother as one could imagine.
The biggest downfall to Rachel Getting Married is its slow pacing and completely overdrawn scenes. A full half hour could have been cut and Demme would have had a stronger film. Despite the outstanding performances, by the end everyone has stayed at the reception too long.