Monday, February 16, 2009

Best Supporting Performance (Female), 2008

Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married (139 points/19 votes)

"‘She’s the saint, and I’m the nightmare,’ says the sarcastic,narcissistic and deeply troubled Kym (Anne Hathaway), joking truthfully as she grabs the microphone at a pre-wedding dinner to pay squirm-inducing tribute to Rachel, her more stable, conventional sister. That described dichotomy might have easily and neatly been allowed to sum up not only the Rachel-Kym relationship, but also the Rachel character as a stoic and relatively colorless depository for all the frustrations and jealousy to be meted out by her disturbed sibling. Fortunately, Rosemarie De Witt, who plays Rachel with seemingly as much courage as it took Anne Hathaway to create Kym (a much more ostentatious character), is the possessor of a pair of searching eyes which compellingly indicate the roiling waters that lie just beneath her cool composure— she must bear witness, with increasing disbelief and expressed anger, to the dysfunctional family dynamics that threaten to overshadow what should be her happiest hour and figure how to best express her displeasure without sacrificing her patience or her sympathy.

“De Witt, rather like JoBeth Williams before her, has a rather lyrical way of suggesting tension with silence and a searing glance. She welcomes her acid-tongued sister back to the family with some initial nostalgic sisterly conversation, but the movie drops this mutual dance of improbable ease quickly. We expect the egocentric impulses that only semi-consciously compel Kym to sideswipe the family celebration, and Hathaway brings them off with an awe-inspiring empathy while sacrificing none of the character’s unpleasant bite. What is more surprising is the degree to which De Witt treads the same thin line with a character we rather more instinctively expect to take the high road. It’s easier for us, looking in from some distance, to feel uncomfortable but at the same time see the good intentions behind Kym’s ill-advised dinner speech and forgive her all the biographical diversions taken to get at honest expression of feelings for her sister. But for Rachel, all the feelings of emotional abandonment she’s worked hard to put behind her come rushing back, and she begins to demand explanations, from Kym and from her concerned father (who coddles Kym in her dysfunction as a way of keeping the waters calm) as to why Kym’s troubles have always outranked her own well-being.

“De Witt miraculously cruises avenues of empathy for a character who could easily be drawn as shrewish and insensitive; she makes us understand Rachel’s point of view and effortlessly creates a forceful characterization which protects that point of view, never letting it get buried for us as viewers the way it did for the rest of the family when Kym’s personal hell first enveloped them all. She tempers her character’s own narcissism and barely suppressed histrionics with a desire to maintain composure, as if that effort is the only thing preventing a complete collapse in the family dynamic, and yet somehow she never becomes strident or self-righteous. Rachel finally explodes when a series of lies told by Kym in the past are revealed, and here De Witt’s laser-sharp instincts for modulation allow her to display a rather awesome sense of control; her seething anger seems precisely right, yet never calculated, as if it were being exposed, to us, and to her, for the first time.

“And the force of that anger never dissipates even when it is suddenly removed— the memory of it is what helps make Rachel’s wordless reconciliation with Kym so moving, when she quietly bathes her sister in the aftermath of more emotional and physical violence. Rachel discovers a tattoo on Kym’s shoulder, permanent evidence of the brother whose death Kym caused, and without a word De Witt, with each tending touch on her sister’s body, transmits a rush of empathy, an understanding of how Kym, and perhaps she too, will never entirely be consigned to the healing of time and memory. Nearly as wordlessly, it is De Witt who gingerly guides the terms of her own good-bye to Kym (and to us), not allowing her to escape without acknowledgment, opening the door to forgiveness, and then hanging around to listen to the lovely music that continues on the front lawn even now that the wedding is over. She sits, back to the camera, allowing us to relax with her, and she draws us in again with this simple concession, feet tucked under her legs, listening for the sounds of what comes next. It’s an intuitive moment and a beautiful coda to an entirely marvelous performance." ~ Dennis Cozzalio

“It comes as little surprise that Anne Hathaway's performance in Rachel Getting Married, as a celebrity out of rehab for her sister's wedding, is the only one honored during awards season in the aforementioned film. It's perfectly fine, perfectly daring for a celebrity of Hathaway's caliber, and it is perfectly memorable.

“Hathaway's performance is only as successful as her character's antagonist and sister, Rachel, played by Rosemarie Dewitt. Rachel, a cynical, college educated bridezilla is given the heart of the film, unexpectedly. It is through Rachel that Kym admits her past mistakes and present failings; it is with DeWitt that Hathaway is able to shine.

“If there is a single scene that exemplifies the breadth of DeWitt's skills, my vote would be just the post-rehearsal dinner moments at the family home. Rachel's intolerance for Kym's toast at the dinner, which was mostly self-pitying and narcissistic, is dissected blow for blow, until Rachel can no longer defend with confidence. Instead, with the grandest copout of all, Rachel reveals: ‘I'm pregnant.’” ~ Michael Lieberman

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler (126/21)
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (106/16)
Samantha Morton, Synecdoche, New York (103/17)
Viola Davis, Doubt (74/12)

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Dennis Cozzalio said...

To which Kym blurts out like a spoiled child, "That's not fair!" You can see where she's coming from, but it's also a spectacular inappropriate response too. In a nutshell, the scene is a perfect diagram of how Rachel getting Married maintains its balance.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Spectacular = spectacularly

Bryan Whitefield said...

Excellent write-up Dennis. I'm glad to see this performance get some well-deserved recognition. I'm still surprised it got passed over in so many other places. I was especially impressed b/c I wasn't her biggest fan on "Mad Men" but she owned this role from start to finish.

Paul C. said...


That's the genius of the scene, I'd say. Rachel isn't wrong, but she's also completely playing the usual dynamic to her advantage. Because she's the good one, she knows she can only pick on Kym for so long before she loses Dad's support. She knows this, and before that can happen, she drops the bomb, and everyone's back on her side. That's what Kym is responding to, but since the moment is all wrong for it, she looks like a terrible person for saying so.