“I suppose that there are writers that say, ‘I write what I write and if people get it, great, if they don’t, whatever,'” “Rachel Getting Married” screenwriter Jenny Lumet told indieWIRE earlier this week. “But I don’t feel that way. I feel very passionate about making connections with people. I want very much to be heard.” That aspiration is about to be realized. “Married,” directed by Jonathan Demme and featuring a heavily lauded performance from Anne Hathaway, opens in theaters today after very well-received screenings in both Toronto and Venice.
“Married” takes place over a few days as Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) prepares to be wed at her family’s Connecticut home. Her sister, Kym (Hathaway) joins in on the celebration, fresh from rehab and bringing with her a history of considerable personal, and inter-personal, conflicts. Drama unfolds, and a remarkably affecting portrait of a complicated American family comes together.
The film is Lumet’s first produced script, though the fifth she’s completed. “I started writing during the pregnancy of my first child so that’s 13 years ago,” she said, “On the first one, you just sort of write and you’re learning about stuff. And the ones after that, I thought they were really funny but no one else thought they were really funny. So they tanked miserably. They got optioned and just sort of laid there and didn’t do anything.”
In the meantime, the 41-year old Lumet (though she hardly looks it), spent her time raising her children, and teaching drama to 7th and 8th graders. At some point during the past few years, she started taking a few hours a day and working with this very specific image that had been long gestating in her mind. “Sometimes when you talk about process you sound like a bit of a nutcase,” she laughed. “But I had a very specific visual image in my head for weeks of a bride in a bridal chamber admiring herself in a joyful way. [She’s] having a private moment. And then her sister bursts in to the room and it creates a new moment and destroys the old one. That was in my head for weeks and it kind of gestated. In all honesty, I started listening really closely to what those two women were saying. They revealed stuff to me.”
Once she actually began writing the script, it only took her about seven weeks to finish what is now “Rachel Getting Married.” During the entire process, she thought of Jonathan Demme.
“He was the only director I had in my head,” she said. “Because of ‘Something Wild‘ and ‘Married to the Mob‘ and “The Silence of the Lambs.’ He always treats his female characters heroically. And everybody in this movie is a pain in the ass – every single character. And I knew that the director would have to love them if it was going to work. Or the audience would go stomping out of the theater thinking, ‘Oh, God, what horrible people.’ So I knew it couldn’t be anybody else but him.”
But Lumet is quick to specify what she means by this characterization. “I hate to make the generalization of how he works with women,” she said. “Because that makes women sound like unicorns or freaking poodles or something like that. So it’s not that. But one could easily make the case that some people are not willing to see the complexities of their female characters.”
In regard to getting Demme on board, Lumet is not afraid of admitting that her famous father, director Sidney Lumet, played a significant role. “My dad knew Jonathan,” she said. “And I said, ‘You have to get this script to him.’ So we went back and forth a little bit. It’s a really awkward situation… asking someone to read your daughter’s stuff because everybody can end up looking like an asshole. But after a while, I essentially extorted my dad. I was like, ‘You’ll never see your grandchildren again if you don’t get this to Jonathan Demme.’ Finally, he did indeed get it to [him]. And then, when that happens you assume that you’re not going to hear anything for months. That’s sort of the way it works. So I didn’t hear anything for a while. And then he called me sort of out of the blue one day.”
After a few long talks in Demme’s kitchen, Lumet convinced him to commit. “Once he [did], it became easier,” she said. “Because, you know, it’s him.” As for Hathaway’s involvement, it was Demme that came to Lumet. “Jonathan was completely in love with her as an actress,” Lumet said. “He was committed.”
“What I didn’t know about Annie was, does she talk fast,” Lumet reflected. “Because the characters in this movie, they talk fast, they’re sort of too smart for their own good and they have all these terms that they throw around – and that was important to me. So I went and I met her and we sat in at Cafe Luxembourg and she ate my french fries. And she was like [sound suggesting very quick speech]. And I thought, this is this tough girl. This is amazing.”
When ask about her influences, Lumet says, “In all honesty, I wish that I were smart enough, or kind of high-brow enough, to say that, you know, its all Bergman and dogme. It’s not. I just learned the term ‘dogme’ – and this is very glamorous – when we were in Venice. A lot of the European press were like, ‘It’s very dogme.’ And I was like, ‘um, yeah, that’s what it is.'”
So then what are her influences? “I admire the bravery of the Monty Python guys, the Spinal Tap guys and Mel Brooks,” she smiles. “‘Young Frankenstein,’ ‘Blazing Saddles‘… Because it’s balls to the wall nuttiness. And they just go. Who does that? I figure why not do that on a family level. Why not do that emotionally. And also, I wish I could write scripts like that. I would like to that one day.”
As for following in her dad’s directorial footsteps, Lumet isn’t so sure. “I like being a screenwriter,” she said. “Directing seems like a pain in the ass because everyone bugs you every three seconds. I would like to know more about [screenwriting] before I start doing something else.”
She also doesn’t rule out returning to her previous profession, or even balancing both. “I’m very happy being a drama teacher, and I hope to going back to being a drama teacher,” she said. “And I’m a better writer when I’m teaching because it makes you brave and you also have to be really honest. I feel, looking at a room full of 12 and 13 year olds… They know when you’re being an asshole. And if you are one, you’re going to find out really fast. And there’s no way on the planet I would have had the balls to write this if I hadn’t felt brave enough to be a teacher.”
“Rachel Getting Married” opens in limited release via Sony Pictures Classics Friday, October 3, and expands over the month.