Kinda lightweight family-crisis drama, but that’s welcome after the too-heavy Rachel Getting Married. This one also tweaks the formula in important ways, using music scenes (Meryl Streep’s Ricki fronts a pub-rock band) for emotional impact, letting the entire songs play out. Streep is great, but she’s out-acted (if not upstaged) by daughter Mamie Gummer, who plays both touchingly depressed and comic-caricature-depressed, depending on the scene.

Streep has abandoned her own family, now tries to return and fix things when her daughter is abandoned by her husband. The two sons are having none of this, and Streep loses a power struggle with ex-husband Kevin Kline’s wife Audra McDonald, and refuses to commit to boyfriend/bandmate Rick Springfield, then between the visit home for Mamie’s divorce drama and Streep’s belated invitation to her son’s wedding a few months later, she manages to change just enough for a happy, all-dancing ending.

Written by Diablo Cody, with Kevin Kline as husband/father. Pretty much none of the critics liked it except Scott Tobias: “Against the machine-tooled blockbusters of summer, Demme’s film stands out for its modesty of scale and its abiding interest in the untidy business of being human … Typical of many Demme films, there are no villains here, just the natural conflict between fundamentally decent people whose choices have put them at odds with one another.”

The second now-obscure Jonathan Demme movie I’ve convinced Katy to watch with me – obscure, I thought, until I realized that it’s got a big Criterion reissue this month. Fun movie, but it couldn’t quite shake the dull grime of the 1980’s or transcend the sappy yuppy spirit of Jeff Daniels’s character. Mostly I loved the music – about fifty songs by members of Talking Heads, X, New Order and (in person!) The Feelies. I also appreciated the similarity with Blue Velvet from the same year – naive boy goes on adventure, meets wicked man who appears to be his opposite but proclaims “we’re the same.”

Daniels thinks he’s living dangerously when he gets picked up by Melanie Griffith and whisked away from his boring banker life, but she’s a vanilla cupcake next to her career criminal husband Ray Liotta, who whisks her right back. Daniels finally steps up from his passive role, follows the couple and steals Griffith back, leading to a final face-off as the movie gets darker. After all that, I like how Griffith almost leaves him for lying about his marital status, the lie being worse in her eyes than cheating on a loving wife would have been. Writer E. Max Frye would later make the Cage/Jackson caper Amos & Andrew, which I think I watched once on cable.

D. Thompson:

What distinguishes Demme’s film is that his hero’s journey is not just a matter of surviving all the dangers and torments that are thrown at him. He undergoes a profound exposure to the different classes, backgrounds, and ethnicities that make up America, and ultimately questions what he does and just who he is.

Thompson also mentions one of the characteristics that makes Demme’s movies so appealing to me, and possibly to frequent collaborator David Byrne as well. “He has a fond eye for the textures of Americana: the boasting billboards, the friendly signs, the even friendlier storekeepers, the name tags sported by waitresses, the gospel chapels.”

Yes, we celebrated the receipt of a Netflix Streaming disc for our Wii by spontaneously watching a Goldie Hawn movie. I thought it’d be a Jonathan Demme movie, but it turned out not to be – Demme has disowned this version. As he told The Guardian: “It turned out very poorly, yeah. We did a film and I hope that very few people here have seen it!”

In this, the Goldie version (Demme’s cut was reportedly available on bootleg VHS in the 80’s, but seems impossible to find now), Hawn goes off to work at the airplane factory when hubby Ed Harris goes to war to fight the dirty Japs who bombed the harbor. Hawn teams up, eventually and reluctantly, with rebel girl Hazel (Christine Lahti of Housekeeping, Running On Empty) and rebel boy Kurt Russell (lately of The Thing). Their friendship and her new self-sufficiency lead Goldie to redefine herself as a person. Then somehow she ends up back at home with hubby Ed, Kurt reading a wistfully-voiceovered note from Goldie as he rides away to tour with his new band.

Apparently it used to be more of an ensemble piece than a Goldie showcase, so side characters like coworker Holly Hunter (in what would’ve been her first major role if it had stayed major) and Fred Ward (as Hazel’s complicatedly sleazy ex) had beefier parts. Even in its diminished state, though, Katy and I liked it quite a bit.

Demme to The Guardian:

We had this hard-nosed feminist, all women together thing, and Kurt Russell was supposed to be a bastard, and suddenly all these scenes were being rewritten, and I found myself in a very awkward position because I had to co-operate with these new scenes. I actually had to shoot them, otherwise I would have been in violation of my contract, and so in order to protect the movie that I thought we were making I had to shoot these very bad scenes.

Demme doesn’t finger Robert Towne as the emergency rewriter, though he’s strongly rumored to be the one. Towne had once written Chinatown, but having just done the craptastic Deal of the Century he owed the studio a favor. Demme goes on to tell the story of how Ed Harris saved Stop Making Sense, for which we should all be forever grateful.

Movie took some adjusting. Firstly I’d heard this was a marvelous best-of-year movie, so when I saw the shaky-cam cinematography I thought “seriously?”. Then I’d been selling it to Katy as romantic comedy, and it turned out very dramatic, not so funny or romantic. But once I straightened out that I was watching a shaky-cam unromantic drama I’d say it was a very good one of those.

Kim (Anne Brokeback Hathaway) gets a weekend leave from rehab for the wedding of sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) and beau Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). While out, she raises all sorts of hell with her sister, mother (Debra Winger of early-80’s prestige pics) and father (Bill “Mr. Noodle” Irwin). Comes out that Kim killed their little brother in a drug-binge car accident, and now that she’s sober for the first time in a decade, they can talk to her about it. Wedding goes off, party is much fun, Kim returns to rehab.

Acting (especially by Hathaway and Irwin) is very good, and Kim’s character is strong – one of those deep writer/director/actor character-study things like Happy-Go-Lucky, I’d suppose. The family thing is strong overall, but groom Tunde Adebimpe, having just blown me away at a TV On The Radio concert a week earlier, didn’t do hardly anything in this movie. He came to life during what is probably the longest dishwasher-stacking scene in cinema history, but otherwise he was background, and his family existed as a friendly mass of people, not as a bunch of distinguishable individuals. Not a single scrap of racial-relations dialogue. Critics are chalking that up to unrealistic liberalism on Demme’s part, but apparently it’s because the groom was gonna be a white actor so there was no race in the script, heh.

Written by the granddaughter of the good witch in The Wiz. First fiction feature I’ve seen from Demme in 15 years (Philadelphia), wow. Robyn Hitchcock got a song and a half, including some close-up shots, nice, and Tunde sang Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” acapella at the ceremony, also nice.

It’s a Jonathan Demme picture alright, and he’s got the crew to prove it. Demme works here with a camera operator from Silence of the Lambs, editor from Beloved, cinematographer from Cousin Bobby and Subway Stories, assistant director from Married to the Mob and Philadelphia, sound crew from Heart of Gold and Manchurian Candidate, producer from Stop Making Sense, and unfortunately, a studio (Orion Pictures) that didn’t even exist anymore at the time of the film’s release, hence its obscurity.

Robyn plays half of his most recent album Moss Elixir, some songs that won’t come out on albums for a few years, a cover song and scattered older tracks (but no “oldies”). Demme keeps the visuals interesting but never distracting, and that’s a hard line to follow. With a solo artist standing still and playing songs on acoustic guitar, it would seem tempting to make the film more “cinematic” by adding and adding and cutting and re-cutting, but the presentation is simple enough to do great service to the music, making you feel more like a concert-goer than a movie-watcher. Unlike in Stop Making Sense, with its very few audience shots, this film has no audience shots at all, at least none that we can see on the cropped “modified to fit your screen” image of the DVD, so there’s no “them” in the crowd, only “you”. We get a mirror ball, a colored gel backdrop, a few planted passers-by on the street, a line of text for Robyn’s father at the start of The Yip Song, a few moments of quick editing, and a nice four-camera split for the credits and the final song. Interestingly this movie semi-references Stop Making Sense, with Robyn shouting David Byrne’s name in the middle of “Freeze”.

I can’t remember if I’d discovered Robyn’s music before I first saw this movie, but the movie has surely made an impression. I’ve played it more than any other DVD I own, and possibly (if you include the soundtrack) I’ve played it more than I’ve listened to any other Robyn release all the way through. Was just pondering that this weekend when I put this disc on instead of a CD while painting – it’s really one of my all-time favorite films. It’s great in the same way as the Spalding Gray movies and Stop Making Sense… it’s an elegantly simple film of a great performance, a documentary of an event worth documenting. It’s not gonna be studied in film class or given a large chapter in a book on Jonathan Demme, since the performer is the auteur here, but hopefully at least it stays in print for other Robyn fans to enjoy.

Film Tracklist:
Devil’s Radio
1974
Filthy Bird
Let’s Go Thundering
I’m Only You
Glass Hotel
I Something You
The Yip Song
I Am Not Me
You and Oblivion
Airscape
Freeze
Alright, Yeah
No, I Don’t Remember Guildford

The soundtrack albums have a different running order and also include:
Statue With a Walkman *
I’m Only You *
Where Do You Go When You Die? * +
The Wind Cries Mary * +
Eerie Green Storm Lantern *
Beautiful Queen * +
* double LP
+ CD

But neither soundtrack includes “Devil’s Radio” or “I Am Not Me” from the 77-minute film. So it would be something like a 105-minute show if edited all together.

Robyn says: “I’m Only You,” “Freeze” and the “The Yip! Song” are descended from my days with the Egyptians, “Glass Hotel” is much as it was on Eye. “I Something You” appeared on a K-Record 7-inch. I’ve been playing Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” for years. “1974,” “I Don’t Remember Guildford,” “Let’s Go Thundering” and “Where Do You Go?” were written with the movie in mind.

Robyn again: “It’s worth pointing out, however, that a concert movie and a soundtrack record are radically different things. A film doesn’t have to bear the repeated scrutiny that the soundtrack does. An album has to survive a degree of repetition. So I’ve reduced the number and volume of introductions to the songs and they have been cued up on the CD as separate tracks, so you can skip them. It’s also worth mentioning that a song like “Airscape” worked better visually than sonically, so it didn’t make the CD. Conversely, “Beautiful Queen,” although a great performance, didn’t make it into the movie.

Edit: can’t believe I didn’t think to put this in the “musicals” category earlier. If this isn’t a musical, what is?