Thirty-five year old spinster and virgin Rachel Cameron is a sad, lonely woman. She lives in the small town of Japonica, Connecticut where she grew up. She teaches second grade at Japonica Elementary School and lives with her highly demanding widowed mother (her funeral director father passed away fourteen years ago) in the same apartment above a funeral home where she grew up, despite the home now not being owned by them. Rachel often uses her mother as an excuse not to do things. Rachel represses her emotions, and is prone to daydreaming to envision alternate paths for herself in certain situations if she only had the nerve to do those things. Even when Nick Kazlik, a childhood acquaintance who has returned to Japonica for a summer visit with his family, makes it clear that he wants to have fun with her while he's in town, she can't act on his request out of fear of the unknown. But after a couple of incidents with her only real friend Calla Mackie, who is a fellow teacher at the ...Written by
In the turbulent cultural and political year of 1968, movies hadn't quite yet figured out how they wanted to address current events, or indeed whether they wanted to address them at all. The year's Oscar winner for Best Picture was "Oliver!," an entertaining but utterly irrelevant big-budget musical; "Funny Girl," another stage-to-screen musical that hasn't aged at all well, was also among the nominees. "The Lion in Winter" found Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn bickering in period costumes, while "Romeo and Juliet" gave Shakespeare a jolt of sexiness for the younger generation. Movies that actually felt like they had their finger on the uneasy pulse of the changing times, like "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Rosemary's Baby," "Faces," and "The Battle of Algiers," were nominated in lesser categories but none were up for the big prize. That fifth slot went to "Rachel, Rachel," in which Paul Newman directed his wife, Joanne Woodward, to a Best Actress nomination.
"Rachel, Rachel" certainly did not deserve a place at the Oscar podium above those titles just mentioned that weren't even nominated, but it does have much to recommend it, and the themes it's about speak more to a modern-day audience than those of many of its contemporaries, because they're both universal and timeless. Woodward plays a woman in her 30s, living with her annoying and needy mother and watching her life slowly drip away from her day by day. It's about that moment -- and I have to believe anyone over a certain age has experienced it at least to some degree -- where one realizes that he/she isn't so much living a life as dying a slow and inevitable death. What one does with the time in between suddenly becomes urgent in a way it hasn't ever felt before, and one understands how easy it would be to do nothing and let that slow death gradually come. Woodward's character, brought up in a mortuary and morbidly obsessed with death, doesn't exactly figure out what to do with the time left to her, but she does figure out that she needs to try something different, which is perhaps the best any of us can hope for. Woodward gives a beautiful and nuanced performance as a shy turtle coming out of her shell one painful inch at a time. The movie is melancholy and sad, but it's also hopeful in its conclusion that it's never too late to at least make a grab for, if not happiness, then at least contentment.
In addition to its nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress, the film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons, as Rachel's closet lesbian friend), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Stewart Stern). Newman himself was not nominated for Best Director, which doesn't really surprise me. The Academy has always shown a penchant for acknowledging the showy over the subtle when it comes to that particular category.
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