Jenny Lumet could continue an Oscar tradition

Posted by · 8:28 am · January 16th, 2009

Jenny LumetIn the 1970s there simply wasn’t a greater director of actors than Sidney Lumet.  Roles in his films came with Academy Award nominations virtually attached.  From 1973 to 1988, Lumet directed actors to 16 Oscar nominations, three of those eventually winning an Oscar.  He himself was nominated for Best Director for “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network” and “The Verdict” and most certainly should have been nominated for “Prince of the City,” which earned him a New York Film Critics Circle award.

A former actor himself, Lumet understood inherently how to work with his on-screen talent, how to allow them the space they needed to create without seeing them run away with his film.  Most importantly, he understood how to direct them to best serve the piece.  Incredibly he never won an Oscar for his work at the helm, but the Academy did give him an Honorary Award a couple of years ago, which he followed with his best work in years: “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.”  In his 80s now, he is as fresh and alive as he has ever been, and still one of the great living directors.

And now his daughter Jenny could become a first-time Oscar nominee for her screenplay “Rachel Getting Married.”  Lumet must be pleased — Sidney, I mean.  I had the pleasure of interviewing him last year and he was an utter delight, frank, unafraid to speak his mind.  He mentioned his daughter was working on a film I might see within the year. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye he said, “It’s very good.”  Ever the proud father.

“Rachel Getting Married” was not only “very good,” as the old master said, it was a knockout, one of the best screenplays of the year, winning Ms. Lumet a New York Film Critics Circle award, no small feat in a year loaded with strong writing.  In this category the younger Lumet bested no less than Woody Allen, Eric Roth, John Patrick Shanely, Peter Morgan, Dustin Lance Black, Simon Beaufoy, J. Michael Straczynski and Jim Reardon and Andrew Stanton, to name a few.

What I admired about the work was the fact that Lumet offered a trio of outstanding female role, and they delivered under the direction of Jonathan Demme.  These were difficult, troubled women, battling a spectrum of demons, each authentic in every way.  For many of us we know these women, for others, they are these women, which is why I think the film struck a chord with audiences.

Anne Hathaway was brilliant, Rosemarie DeWitt superb as her sister, and in a smaller role, Debra Winger brought presence and grace to the role of the girls’ mother.  The screenplay had an edge to it that told us from the start we were on a very different journey than films in a similar vein; these people were in pain at this supposedly happy event, and Kym’s arrival home was like gas thrown on fire.

Lumet caught that, to perfection, and Demme understood where she was going with the script.  He guided the actors towards Lumet’s vision.  I dare say there is more of Lumet in the film than Demme, and I mean that as a compliment to the director.  He kind of went off to do his own thing after “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” perhaps stung by the attacks he endured for “Beloved,” the most daring and risky film of his career, hampered only by the presence of Opray Winfrey.  He made some fine documentaries before returning to direct this extraordinary work that firmly launches the career of a young screenwriter, daughter of one of the iconic directors of all time.

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16 responses so far

  • 1 1-16-2009 at 8:41 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m afraid I still think “Rachel Getting Married” was a film not so much anchored by its screenplay, as weighed down by it.

    Some sharp moments here and there, but the revelations were too calculated, and the conflicts too banal, for my liking. It was full of feeling, but no discernible ideas.

    I realize I’m heavily in the minority on this one. (Though perhaps some members of the WGA felt the same way?)

  • 2 1-16-2009 at 10:06 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Rachel Getting Married. Ugh.

  • 3 1-16-2009 at 10:27 am

    Frank Lee said...

    I’m reminded of that consoling line in “For Your Consideration”: “It’s an honor just to almost be nominated.”

  • 4 1-16-2009 at 10:31 am

    John Foote said...

    Sorry fellas…liked it and loved Hathaway — angry and vicious…love it..

  • 5 1-16-2009 at 10:58 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Hey, I’m not putting down Hathaway at all … I think she does some really interesting work there. I still think Rosemarie DeWitt trounces everyone in the film, though.

  • 6 1-16-2009 at 11:06 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hathaway is fine. DeWitt is fantastic. Winger was garbage. And the script was full of it.

  • 7 1-16-2009 at 11:50 am

    actionman said...

    I Thought the script was phenomenal. So layered, packed with emotion, and very real. If you lived on the east coast then it really will feel reel. Hathaway was a revelation — and I take that word seriously. NOTHING she had done before could have prepared you for the work she did in this film. Bill Irwin was fucking sensational — how he’s been overlooked this awards season is just a joke. The dishwasher scene alone is one of the best movie moments of the year. Demme’s direction was inspired, the camerawork was great, and Lumet’s script was heartfelt and honest and true to the characters.

  • 8 1-16-2009 at 11:51 am

    actionman said...

    Reel — oops. *real*

  • 9 1-16-2009 at 12:38 pm

    John Foote said...

    Kris, with all due respect my good friend, you are so far off the mark (in my opinion) with Winger – she did everything and more the screenplay required of her — a mother cautious of a daughter she loves but who she does not trust because of the enormous amount of pain Kym has brought upon the family — her cool distance from her was perfect — Debra Winger could never, ever be garbage my friend — have you seen her in something else and just dislike the woman? Seriously that happens with me.

  • 10 1-16-2009 at 12:55 pm

    Mr. Harmonica said...

    Kris, can you detail what the “garbage” in the movie was for me?

    I’m curious.

  • 11 1-16-2009 at 1:31 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I love Debra Winger, but have to side with Kris here — I thought she was dreadful in an admittedly ill-conceived role.

  • 12 1-16-2009 at 2:01 pm

    Lance said...

    I hated this movie! I also hate weddings so maybe that had something to do with it.

  • 13 1-16-2009 at 5:34 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    John, what did you think of Bill Irwin’s quietly moving performance as the father? That’s another one a lot of fans keep talking about (and I really enjoyed watching it).

    As for me, as soon as I saw the meeting scene where Kym talks about her brother’s Death, I was sold on Hathaway’s performance, and have been championing her (and Sally Hawkins) all season long. I remember I was also kind of bothered by the long wedding scenes and the toasts when I first saw the movie, but when I looked back, I thought they were brilliant. We were at a wedding where we didn’t know anyone, and were constantly looking for our characters to find out what happens to them. I was surprised at how much bite the screenplay has (the trailer made it look like a light-ish family comedy). I was very impressed, and find it the most underrated film of the year. I’m glad you liked it too, John.

  • 14 1-16-2009 at 7:16 pm

    JR said...

    I love this film and I think it’s very underappreciated. The work done by Hathaway, DeWitt, Irwin, and Winger are fantastic and thye should all be considered. It’s one of the most realistic films I’ve seen.

    Irwin is moving as the father and I disagree with you guys on Winger. She owned that role and her presence was very much felt even when she wasn’t in the room.

  • 15 1-17-2009 at 2:23 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The most underrated film of the year? Maybe you’re talking in terms of awards, but have you checked out the reviews? 82 at Metacritic is hardly “underrated.”

    It’s my personal pick for most overrated film of the year, but that’s me.

  • 16 1-17-2009 at 8:29 am

    sally p. said...

    Anne Hathaway deserves her first Oscar nomintion with her breakthrough performance in this wonderful film. I truly hope Dewitt, Irwin , & Lumet are not forgotten by the Academy. The competition is so tough that I do not expect nominations for Demme or Winger.

    “Rachel” is an instant classic, the best family drama since “Ordinary People”. I hate weddings, but this film , the characters , & the performances still haunt me.