Best Picture Profile: Rachel, Rachel

Directed by: Paul Newman

Company: Kayos Productions / Warner Bros. – Seven Arts

Runtime: 101 minutes

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In 1968, Paul Newman was the star. But not because he’s the actor in his movie, but he’s the one directing it. And the star is his wife, Joanne Woodward, who almost everybody hails in here as her performance of a lifetime. Today, it’s totally forgotten by the masses. Only Oscar fans and Newman/Woodward fans give their time to watch this film.

The movie is about Rachel Cameron, a schoolteacher in their quiet town. She doesn’t have a man. She has a quite noisy friend, also a co-teacher in the town school. And she leads a peaceful life, aside from some emotional detours in her daydreaming. And that’s her conflict – the daydreams are reflection of her past that continues to haunt her.

At the same time, she hated the summer because she has the feeling that this summer is the last summer of her growth, and the following summers will just start to bring her down. Now, in one prayer meeting in a church where her friend worships, she attends and  breaks down while shouting. After that, it was revealed to her that her friend has physical attraction to her.

She stays away from her. At the same time, she meets her high school classmate and she falls for her first sexual experience with a man. Believing in a promising future with him, she already have plans of having a child. Until one time, she just thinks she have a baby inside of her.

The film is awkward.

I guess that’s the best word to describe this movie. Why? Because it tries to be ahead of its time but it ended up being weirdly dated. It struggles to be “modern” but the modern that it tries to reach is already dated when it comes to us.

Also,  I just think it ha a stupid title. I mean, come on, the film is something different, something daring, and then you just give us viewers with a so-so title. Anyway…

First of all, the acting is quite good. But the praises is only suited to the two actresses here – Joanne Woodward as the title character, and Estelle Parsons as her friend.

Parsons’ Blanche Lew is still reflected here with some noisy scenes. And maybe she was just too hysterical here. But it somewhat worked. Her work here is far from great, but it really feels that she knows her character. Sometimes, it’s annoying due to the fact that it tends to steal the spotlight from Woodward, but nevertheless, she plays a key plot point for this movie. A nomination could be deserved, but way far for a win.

Now, Joanne Woodward is near-great as Rachel. She handles her somewhat problematically written character with such mastery that she doesn’t make her character step with the wrong foot. The character’s facade is tough, but in her eyes, there is the vulnerability and fragility that the character contains inside of her.

Her best scenes have Oscar written in it: the breakdown in the church (so wonderfully acted, mounted with the haunting music and great direction in that scene) and her quiet moment of crying after she found out what’s really inside of her. Both of those scenes show that she has the capability to make her character human.

The problem enters with the screenplay.

It never tried to make the characters and the whole film engaging and accessible to the audience. Sure, it has a fairly interesting concept, and it managed to squeeze in the back story of Rachel in such a way that it blends in with the present storyline, but please! No matter how mysterious the story is, if you can’t make a connection between the characters and the viewers, then something is really wrong.

Speaking of the back story, even though I said it blends with the present storyline, I had problems with it also. Some scenes doesn’t really call for her childhood memories to be seen by the viewers. In some parts, yes, it works, but if she is just walking, do we really need to see an unnecessary intercutting between the two?

Also, the film led to nothing. It had events that will surely interest some, but it doesn’t build up anything. We just follow her. OK, I do like/love movies that doesn’t really follow the usual narrative flow, The Hurt Locker as a recent example, but the thing is – it has a point, it leads the audience to something, the movie involves us for us to care about it. And that’s where the film committed most of its mistakes. Also, those talking to self  voice-overs just got irritating. I believe it’s unnecessary.

Also, I had problems with the direction. No offense – this is a credible directorial debut from Newman. He knows how to direct a movie. But to direct a movie well is another thing. The whole thing is messed up, and he didn’t try to do something about it. And that’s such a sad thing because there are really bits of directorial brilliance here. The flashback scenes, though it was blended, turned to throw the movie off-balance. It’s just that it wasn’t consistent.

Obviously, it tried to be something, and I can feel that, that’s why I’m quite sad that it failed.

The technical part was okay, mostly dated, serviceable, nothing notable.

In the end, what we have is a movie that tried to present a personal story in such a manner that it would be aesthetically good and emotionally moving. It didn’t give full satisfaction to both, but it’s, I guess, worth a try.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

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2 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: Rachel, Rachel

  1. Haven’t seen this yet, but I will soon!

    Would you have given Barbara the win over Joanne? What are your ratings for both of them?

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    • I’d still give the win to Barbra. Barbra was simply fantastic, though Woodward could be a worthy winner, if not counting the competitors.

      Barbra would get a 5 for me, Joanne would be 4 or 4.5.

      As for the movie, just keep very low expectations. I forgot to write this, but the film just went campy. Still, quite good.

      Like

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