Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TV on the Radio on Film: Music and melancholy in Rachel Getting Married

Mather Zickel, Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Tunde Adebimpe (left to right) feel the love in Rachel Getting Married.

If I could have someone else’s voice, it would be that of Tunde Adebimpe. The TV on the Radio singer is capable of the kind of deep croon and plaintive wail that will forever remain elusive to most of us mere mortals. There is heart, soul, and pain in every lyric. His singing soothes the senses but inflames passions. It is easy to understand how one could fall in love with the man based on his voice alone, which makes him the ideal groom in Jonathan Demme’s underappreciated 2008 gem, Rachel Getting Married.

Adebimpe has appeared in only a few films, mostly shorts or in minor roles, but in the quiet part of the husband-to-be, he is integral to the success of Rachel Getting Married. He plays Sidney, who in marrying Rachel is marrying into the Buchman family. Working off a wondrous script by Jenny Lumet, Demme invites the audience to be part of their wedding, his handheld camera swerving in and out of rooms and conversations like a guest trying to find a familiar face.

Much of the film focuses on a never-better Anne Hathaway as Kym – Rachel’s little sister and the self-proclaimed harbinger of doom. Kym is the one just out of rehab, but it quickly becomes clear the whole family is emotionally broken, wrecked by the death of its youngest member sometime ago. In contrast, Sidney’s family and friends represent a calm breeze against the maelstrom of the Buchmans, a kind of peace toward which one could not blame Rachel for running.

Amid the chaos of family drama and personal demons, however, there is perhaps the most gloriously joyful wedding ever filmed. The event takes place at the Buchman family home, and from the moment we step through the front door, we are greeted with the beautiful, near-constant music that flows from every room. The soundtrack is awash with the melodies and rhythms of life, and no matter how dark the story gets – and it gets quite bleak – the celebration of the film’s central couple is inescapable.

Everyone has a song to sing, and in one of the film’s best sequences, the guests gather for pre-wedding performances by the talented, musically inclined members of the family. Each person’s song is so unique that while we never get to know most of them, we have a definite sense for who they are and how much this all means to them.

Truth be told, we do not learn much about Sidney either, but Adebimpe’s presence is enough. In his few short scenes, he projects such tenderness and care that we are fully sold on this being the right man for Rachel. In this respect, the movie saves its most wonderful trick for last. As the couple exchanges vows, Adebimpe breaks out an a cappella version of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend,” and the weight of it is unmistakable.

Everything in this family has always been about Kym and her disease, but Sidney sees Rachel for the special person she is. Adebimpe, who is capable of shaking the rafters with the power of his voice, pulls it all the way back in this scene. There are a hundred people at the wedding, but when he sings, he is singing only to his bride. If your eyes are dry, you are as broken as the Buchmans start – though it should be noted they are quick to tears during this sequence, as well.

Adebimpe is an inspired choice for the role and is one of many perfect elements in one of my favorite films. Adebimpe’s band, TV on the Radio, released its new album, “Seeds,” this week, the group’s first since one of its members died of cancer. The album is a potent mix of sorrow and strength, evoking the band’s great early works but demonstrating growth and resilience beyond what audiences have heard before. It is good to hear Adebimpe’s voice again backed by the band he fronts, but forgive me as a movie fan for hoping he returns to the cinemas every now and then.

Apologies for the digression from the film year at hand, but I could not pass up the opportunity to discuss Rachel Getting Married, which if you have not seen it, I cannot recommend highly enough.

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